‘Merci, mon ami’: UK-France reset as Sunak meets Macron in Paris

President Emmanuel Macron welcomed PM Rishi Sunak to Paris on Friday in the first UK-France summit for five years

President Emmanuel Macron welcomed UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to France on Friday (March 10)

President Emmanuel Macron welcomed UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to France on Friday (March 10) in a meeting that has widely been seen as a chance to reset relations.

Brexit and disputes over migrants crossing from France to England have soured links between London and Paris in recent times.

The summit came in the wake of recent controversy over Mr Sunak's announcements on stopping migrants from coming to the UK in small boats.

But the mood music ahead of this UK-France summit, the first in five years, has been positive.

Here are the key takeaways from their meeting:

  • Change in tone. Both leaders talked of resetting the UK-France relationship, and a "new start" after years of fractious relations. Mr Sunak said it was an "entente renewed", and after finishing his speech and talking about a future that both countries could build together, told Mr Macron: ‘Merci, mon ami’.
  • Mr Macron said the UK and France "share the same resolve" over Ukraine. Both leaders backed a continued focus on providing the necessary support for Kyiv to “win the war”.
  • The UK committed to helping to fund a migrant detention centre in France, and to contribute millions towards trying to stop small migrant boats crossing the Channel. The UK is set to contribute €141million towards eliminating illegal crossings by 2024, €191million by 2025, and €209million by 2026.
  • Mr Sunak said that he and the French president "share the same belief: criminal gangs should not get to decide to who comes to our countries". He added: "We don't need to manage this problem, we need to break it."
  • Both made a new agreement regarding renewable energies, as well as further French assistance for the UK’s nuclear capabilities.
  • Both mentioned a desire for new ‘cultural’ agreements, making school trips for British and French schoolchildren easier, and increasing cooperative abilities between museums.

Tensions, and reader priorities

Speaking to The Connexion before the leaders' summit, Dame Menna Rawlings, the UK’s ambassador to France, admitted there had been tensions when she came into the post 18 months ago.

But she said the war in Ukraine “had served to remind us all of our closeness as friends, allies and partners”.

Dame Menna also said she would take on board issues raised by The Connexion that affect its readers, in her discussions with UK government colleagues in preparation for the summit.

These included a simple online-only process for second-home owners looking to renew applications for a temporary long-stay visa for a six-month stay, or the possibility of a new kind of multi-year visa that would authorise regular extended stays to overseas owners of French property.

We also said it would help readers to make sure it is possible to contact prefectures in person not just online; and to ensure that, moving forward, French employers and benefits agencies, among others, are better informed of Britons' Withdrawal Agreement rights.

The closer feelings between France and the UK set a positive tone ahead of King Charles III's visit later this month. It will be his first state visit since he became King.

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