PARIS: French leader Emmanuel Macron and British prime minister Rishi Sunak will Friday seek to reset cross-Channel relations at a Paris meeting signalling an end to years of feuding between the two capitals.
The summit, the first since 2018, will bring together the two former investment bankers for their first bilateral visit after encounters on the sidelines of international events since Sunak came to power in October.
Following years of antagonism between London and Paris under Sunak’s former boss and predecessor Boris Johnson, ties have improved markedly in recent months, creating momentum for new initiatives.
“We’re renewing things at the moment, putting things back in order, and preparing for the future,” an aide to Macron told reporters on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
The new constructive mood is likely to produce another deal to stem migration from France, with Sunak determined to thwart thousands of asylum seekers crossing the Channel and Macron pushing for extra resources to fund border controls.
The agreement would focus on “increasing the resources deployed to manage this common border, with multi-year financing”, another aide to Macron told reporters.
A Downing Street source said: “Tackling illegal migration is a global challenge and it’s vital we work with our allies, particularly the French, to prevent crossings and loss of life in the Channel.”
Although Britain’s departure from the European Union is expected to continue to create tension, recent developments including an agreement to settle the trade status of Northern Ireland have created goodwill.
New British King Charles III is also set to make France his first foreign destination as sovereign later this month in another statement of British outreach to France, an ally under a 120-year-old treaty known as the “Entente Cordiale”.
The two neighbours — Europe’s biggest military and diplomatic powers — have also found common cause on Ukraine in supporting Kyiv’s fight against the Russia invasion.
Georgina Wright, a European politics expert at the Montaigne Institute, a Paris-based think-tank, told AFP this was the main driver of the warming relationship, more than personal dynamics between Macron and Sunak.
“The war in Ukraine has forced both countries to come together,” she said. “Clearly there’s an attempt to build a relationship of trust.”
New defence initiatives such as the joint training of Ukrainian soldiers, bolstering NATO defences in eastern Europe, or developing new weapons systems together are all set to form part of Friday’s discussions.
“Defence cooperation remains the cornerstone of the bilateral relationship,” the French Institute of Foreign Relations said in a research note ahead of the summit.
Mutual worries about China and Iran’s nuclear programme are also seen as compelling reasons for resurrecting relations.
Macron, 45, and Sunak, 42, have appeared eager to put the bad blood of previous years behind them.
At one point a French minister threatened to cut electricity supplies to the British-protected Channel Islands, while Johnson deployed a navy vessel in the face of protests by French fishermen.
Macron once publicly denigrated Britain’s vaccine against Covid-19 and reportedly described Johnson as a “clown”. Johnson ridiculed the French leader by telling him he should “prenez un grip” (get a grip) during a row about submarines.
At their first meeting in November on the sidelines of UN climate talks in Egypt, Macron and Sunak embraced so warmly and so frequently it lead to light-hearted speculation about a “bromance”.
“Friends”, Sunak wrote over a tweeted picture of them after the encounter.
That was an obvious reference to his short-lived predecessor Liz Truss, who said in August that she didn’t know whether the French leader was a “friend or foe”.
Macron and Sunak have much in common at a superficial level, being of similar build and age, as well as sharing a love for navy-blue suits.
But the similarities run deeper: their fathers were provincial medics; they were both privately educated; and each had a career in banking before entering politics — Macron at Rothschild, Sunak at Goldman Sachs.
Significant political differences remain, however, with Sunak a conservative Eurosceptic and free-marketeer, while Macron is fervently pro-EU and a believer in strong state intervention.
“I think there’s a sense (in Paris) that the British prime minister is serious, that he’s not looking to score political points, but I wouldn’t exaggerate the bromance between them,” added Wright.

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