Last summer, in her brief stint as British prime minister, Lizz Truss said she did not know if French President Emmanuel Macron was friend or foe. Her predecessor Boris Johnson made fun of the Gallic accent. Much more diplomatic, the current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has staged a new stage in the deteriorated relations between London and Paris today in Paris.
After this summit, the first in five years, both leaders have welcomed "a renewed entente" after a meeting in which the tone on the part of London has been very different: "Our meeting symbolizes a renewed starting point, through history, geography and the values we share," Rishi Sunak said at a joint press conference at the Elysée.
The leaders have evoked aspects of "this crucial alliance" that involves resolving one of the sources of tension between the two countries: illegal immigration in the English Channel. Sunak and Macron have agreed to strengthen collaboration in the fight against these flows and strengthen surveillance. "We share the same conviction, which is that criminal organizations should not decide who enters our countries," said Sunak, who considered that this challenge is a "common challenge" that involves other EU countries, not just London and Paris.
Specifically, the United Kingdom will help finance the construction of a detention center for illegal immigrants in the north of France and surveillance will be reinforced at this highly conflictive point with 500 agents, Sunak said.
The arrival of thousands of irregular migrants to the English coasts from the north of France (there were 45,000 in the year 2022) has been a source of conflict on both sides of the channel. This agreement comes days after the approval in the United Kingdom of a controversial law that restricts the right of asylum to illegal immigrants who arrive in its territory. This standard has been highly criticized by international organizations.
The other central issue in this bilateral summit has been Ukraine. Both leaders have said they are in tune and share the vision that "Russia cannot and should not win this war", in the words of Macron. "We have helped the Ukrainian people to resist and we are doing everything possible so that this conflict does not become global. Ukraine belongs to the European family," he said.
Both he and Sunak have agreed to the training of the Ukrainian military on the ground and want to jointly prepare the way out of this conflict, to leave the Ukrainians in the best possible situation for future negotiations.
Sunak and Macron have not shown the same vision in the face of the day after the war, as the Frenchman has often said that for peace to last, Russia cannot be crushed or humiliated. Much of Europe has criticized this ambiguity with Putin. "We want a lasting peace that respects the interests of the Ukrainian people and international law," Macron said in this regard. Both leaders have stressed that these conditions and moment for peace "will be dedicated by Ukraine".
It has been five years since a Franco-British summit was held. Then a newly elected president Emmanuel Macron, radiant and not yet worn out, received the then British Prime Minister, Theresa May, at the Élysée. It was August 2018. A Brexit, a pandemic, a war and three premiers later, the Frenchman receives Sunak, appointed less than six months ago, in a different geopolitical context, highly influenced by the war.
Historical allies, you have to go back centuries to see London and Paris facing each other. In the last five years, however, the relationship had cooled. Brexit was one of the triggers, as well as the aforementioned migratory tensions. However, many analysts believe that Sunak may now be Macron's best ally. The war in Ukraine has made the countries of the East gain weight, while the United Kingdom and France are the only nuclear powers in Europe.
In these five years "there are two things that cannot change: our history, because we have a common history, and the geography that unites us," Macron said. The Frenchman has insisted that this "is a moment of reunion, reconnection and a new starting point". "We are going to fight together against the challenges in this new context," he added.
The sample of this new stage in relations is the visit in two weeks of King Carlos III, who has chosen France on his first trip abroad. Seven key ministers (Defense, Interior, Foreign Affairs, Economy or Energy) have traveled with Sunak.
"Our long history, our proximity and our shared vision of global challenges mean that a close partnership between the UK and France is not just important, it is essential," Rishi Sunak said. "We want our cooperative relationship with allies to continue to be maintained, and we are writing a new chapter in this relationship."
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