Sunak meets Macron amid bid to strike new migrant crisis deal

Rishi Sunak said there was “lots” to talk about when he met Emmanuel Macron for the first time at Cop27 amid pressure to sign a new deal to curb Channel crossings.

The Prime Minister and the French President embraced at the UN climate change conference in Egypt on Monday, during their first face-to-face encounter since Mr Sunak entered Number 10.

The pair will discuss “ongoing further co-operation” to tackling the migrant crisis, Downing Street said, adding that the role of the French in tackling Channel crossings was “vitally important”.

“Very nice to see you,” Mr Sunak told Mr Macron, adding: “Lots for us to talk about, right?”

It comes amid reports Mr Sunak will press for a fresh agreement during the meeting.

The Prime Minister wants to agree targets for stopping boats, and a minimum number of French officers patrolling beaches. The Government also hopes Border Force officers can be deployed to France, according to The Times.

It is understood a deal is close to being agreed but it is not thought there will be any further announcements by the end of the day.

Rishi Sunak with Emmanuel Macron, ahead of a bilateral meeting during the Cop27 summit
Rishi Sunak with Emmanuel Macron, ahead of a bilateral meeting during the Cop27 summit (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

While also reportedly defending his decision to keep Suella Braverman as Home Secretary, Mr Sunak said tackling Channel crossings was his “key priority”, insisting he would push for a new deal with France, The Sun reported.

“I have spent more time working on that in the last few days than anything else other than the autumn statement.

“We have to get a grip, do a range of things to stop it from happening, return people who shouldn’t be here in the first place,” Mr Sunak told the newspaper.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Sunak has “hit it off well” with Mr Macron and thinks they can make progress on cutting the number of migrants crossing the Channel.

During a visit to Imperial College London, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged the pair to discuss how to “work upstream” to bring down the people smugglers behind the crossings.

Almost 40,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel so far this year. But there were no crossings in the first six days of November amid bad weather, leaving the provisional total for 2022 to date still standing at 39,913.

Meanwhile the Government hopes to revive plans for a Bill of Rights to overhaul human rights laws as part of its plans to address the migrant crisis, after they were shelved by Liz Truss when she became prime minister.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said the proposals – which would give UK courts supremacy over the European Court of Human Rights – will return to Parliament “in the coming weeks”, although they are expected to face opposition.

A view of people thought to be migrants inside the Manston immigration short-term holding facility located at the former Defence Fire Training and Development Centre in Thanet, Kent
People inside the Manston immigration facility in Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

At the same time Mr Shapps insisted rules on foreign aid budget spending had not changed.

The Times reported the Government is in line to spend nearly half of the cash in Britain as ministers grapple with the migrant crisis and war in Ukraine.

Under Treasury rules, as much as £3.5 billion for refugees and migrants in the UK will be considered part of the country’s contribution to international development, the newspaper said.

Mr Shapps told Times Radio “more money” is being spent in that way, but said it has “always been the case” some of the cash has been invested in migrants seeking a new home in this country.

He also described how the overcrowded Manston migrant processing centre in Kent was “tipping into becoming an unofficial detention centre” when he briefly held the post of home secretary.

During his six-day tenure he was “very keen to ensure that we… maintained ourselves within the law, had some very clear advice on that and made a number of changes” to how the centre operated and to make sure people were moved out, he told BBC Breakfast.

Speaking to Sky News, he added that he received “very clear” advice that the Government was “in danger” of breaking the law over Manston if action was not taken.

But he said he did not see advice given to Ms Braverman before he took over, during her first brief appointment as home secretary.

Hundreds of people staged a protest in the pouring rain outside the migrant holding centre on Sunday, demanding the site be shut down.

It came as Ms Braverman pledged to speed up the asylum system with a nationwide roll-out of a trial tested in Leeds to help streamline the application process.

The eight-week pilot doubled the average number of claims processed and reduced the time asylum seekers wait for a first interview by 40%, the Home Office said.