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Sunak, Macron aim to mend fences

By JULIAN SHEA | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-03-10 09:47
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Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and France's President Emmanuel Macron will both be hoping to revive the relationship between the two countries known as the entente cordiale when they meet in Paris on Friday, for the first meeting of the two countries' political leaders since Macron was hosted by then-prime minister Theresa May in January 2018.

Sunak will be keen to discuss the issue of small boat crossings of the English Channel, after his government announced new policies aimed at addressing the issue of illegal migration this week, while Macron, in his capacity as one of the big hitters of the European Union, will be keen to have reassurances from Sunak about his commitment to developments regarding the post-Brexit status of Northern Ireland, which is key to relations between the bloc and the former member state.

On the topic of migration, the France 24 news website quoted one of Macron's aides as saying "we are in the process of a strengthening of our operational cooperation", with a deal focusing on "increasing the resources deployed to manage this common border, with multi-year financing".

The Times newspaper sounded less optimistic about any imminent breakthrough on the handling of migrants, saying that Britain was hoping to secure a long-term deal with the EU over the issue, but French government sources said this would require bloc-wide agreement, so would be unlikely to emerge from this meeting.

In the run-up to her short-lived and ill-fated premiership, Sunak's predecessor in Downing Street Liz Truss said "the jury was out" on whether Macron was a friend of the British, saying she would "judge him on deeds not words", a position from which she swiftly withdrew once she was in office.

But Sunak is perceived as having a more open-minded attitude towards France than Truss or her predecessor Boris Johnson, and it is hoped better relations could be restored by the meeting.

"The summit is a welcome return to a kind of normality after years of fracas … where UK politicians and media used French-bashing for their own internal politics, which was very irritating to the French," Pauline Schnapper, a professor of contemporary British civilization at the Sorbonne University, told The Guardian newspaper. "The return to diplomatic normality and serious work between the two governments is a big relief for everyone."

As well as issues of immediate geographical proximity, the wider international response to the Russia-Ukraine crisis will be high on the agenda, and closely monitored by the global audience.

"The Russians will be watching and will be attentive to the signals coming out of the summit," Pierre Haroche, a lecturer in international relations at Queen Mary University London, told the Politico website. "If it's a disappointing summit, it'll send a sign of weakness."

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