UK’s PM to visit France for first summit in four years

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will visit France on March 10 for the first British-French summit in more than four years, the French presidency and Downing Street said Wednesday.

The planned trip comes amid signs Sunak is trying to put UK relations with the European Union on a surer footing following Brexit and years of rocky ties between France and the UK.

“It will be the first meeting of its kind since 2018,” the French presidency and a Sunak spokesman said.

It would be “an opportunity for the leaders to deepen cooperation between the UK and France in a huge range of areas, including security, climate and energy, the economy, migration, youth and shared foreign policy goals.”

The two countries have enjoyed warmer ties since Sunak took the helm, after years of acrimony under his predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron held a cordial first meeting in early November on the sidelines of the UN climate summit in Egypt.

Paris and London have since signed a deal for Britain to pay France more than 72 million euros ($77 million) to increase the number of security forces patrolling France’s northern beaches and prevent migrant boat crossings in the Channel.

A record 45,000 migrants crossed one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in dinghies from mainland Europe to the UK in 2022, British authorities say.

The issue has become a huge political problem for the Conservative government, which has promised to bring down illegal immigration and crack down on the smuggling gangs organizing the crossings.

During the March 10 summit, “you can certainly expect that issue of small boats given it’s high on the priority list for the prime minister,” Sunak’s spokesman told reporters.

One of the worst public rows between Johnson and Macron came in November 2021, when 27 migrants drowned in the Channel.

Tensions had already soared months earlier when Britain struck an alliance with the United States and Australia that saw Sydney cancel a lucrative order for French submarines.

But Macron in November said he hoped to reinforce defense cooperation with the UK.

Britain and France in February last year signed a deal to jointly develop new cruise and anti-ship missiles, a plan that had been on the cards since a 2010 treaty on close defense ties.

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