OPINION - The Standard View: Improving Anglo-French relations must be a priority for Rishi Sunak (and Emmanuel Macron)

Rishi Sunak shakes hands with Emmanuel Macron (Steve Reigate/Daily Express/PA) (PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak shakes hands with Emmanuel Macron (Steve Reigate/Daily Express/PA) (PA Wire)

Anglo-French relations have played a central role in European history for centuries. Once defined by mistrust and punctuated by warfare, the Entente Cordiale — a series of agreements signed in 1904 — therefore represents one of the most important and successful of Britain’s alliances.

Today, the United Kingdom and French Republic share a close defence and security partnership, bulwarked by the 2010 Lancaster House treaties. Still, it has not always been easy, from Charles de Gaulle’s “non” to the UK’s entry to the European Economic Community to the fallout from the AUKUS nuclear submarine agreement.

It was over Brexit that the relationship recently became most strained. But ahead of a summit in Paris between Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron, there is hope that the Entente will be granted a “new dynamic”, according to an Elysee Palace source. The PM and French president are set to agree measures to tackle the small boats crisis, further boost defence co-operation, announce new investment deals and restore social ties between the two nations.

An improved relationship with one of our closest allies is vital — and it has borne fruit. The Windsor Framework, which secured substantive reforms to the Northern Ireland Protocol, is evidence of that. Dropping the Protocol Bill was critical too in rebuilding trust.

Europe works better when Britain and France put differences aside. Friday’s visit is a chance to do just that.

Celebrating women

There are more ‘Davids’ on the Supreme Court than women. Among countless statistics which illustrate the disadvantages women face, that is one of the starkest.

Great strides have been made in recent decades to cut the gap between women and men. The Government points to falls in the gender pay gap and rises in the percentage of women in employment over the last decade. But backward steps have been taken too.

The sharp increase in the cost of childcare meant the average pay gap actually widened by 2.4 percentage points in 2021, according to the accountancy giant PwC. The chasm can be particularly impactful in London where, with house prices so high, it takes a woman 5.3 years longer than her male counterparts to purchase a property.

It’s not all bad news. In today’s Evening Standard, Claire Cohen has drawn up a list of the most inspirational entrepreneurs, activists and creatives in society. So today’s International Women’s Day is an opportunity to take stock, celebrate successes and push back against any retreat.

Snow on the line

Is that it? If you live in any inner London borough, you likely did not awake to a blanketing of snow. But those further out did still experience the usual public transport delays that accompany even a gentle dusting. Give it a few weeks and temperatures may prove too hot for the rails.