UK to give France nearly half a billion pounds in bid to solve small boat crisis

Rishi Sunak has agreed to give almost half a billion pounds to France in a bid to tackle illegal immigration, it was announced today, as he hailed a “new start” in Anglo-French relations.

The prime minister pledged to send Paris 478 million pounds (541 million euros) over three years to fund a new detention center in France, as well as 500 extra police and more drones to stop small boats leaving French shores.

The announcement came after Mr Sounac traveled to the French capital for the wide-ranging summit with Mr Macron, seen as an important moment in building relations between the UK and France, as well as the rest of Europe.

Mr Macron is seen as a crucial entry point to reset relations with the wider EU, with the UK acutely aware of the weight that France and Germany’s views carry within the bloc.

Announcing the new package, the Prime Minister described today’s meeting as “a new beginning – an alliance renewed”, adding that the pair were “writing a new chapter in this relationship”.

But despite the upbeat mood, there was no sign of the returns deal with France the government wants, with Mr Sunak making “stopping the ships” one of his top priorities.

Macron hailed the summit as “a moment of reunification, reconnection and a new beginning” but strongly rejected the idea of ​​a deal where France would take back those traveling to the UK on small boats.

The French President said such a pact would not be “an agreement between the UK and France (but) … an agreement between the UK and the EU”.

Mr Sunak later said he hoped the UK might still be able to sign a returns deal with France in the future. Describing the new package as “unprecedented”, he added: “In the future we will have more that we can do.”

The UK has already pledged more than £300m to France over the past decade to help tackle unauthorized immigration, but the latest pledge is a significant increase on previous amounts.

The Government’s contribution to this package will be €141m in 2023-24, €191m in 2024-25 and €209m in 2025-26. The French will contribute significantly more funding, which is thought to be between three and five times as much.

A deal with France designed to help prevent crossings was revised in November to be worth around £63m in 2022/2023, £8m more than the previous year.

The detention center will be located in northern France. It is not clear how many people it will hold. But it is designed to deal with those persistently trying to cross the Channel. French officials are trying to prevent crossings by seizing boats and prosecuting criminal gangs. But it is not an offense in France to try to cross the Channel which means some are repeatedly trying to get to Britain.

Speaking at the press conference, Mr Macron said the sums of money were “proportionate” to the current need. He added that UK and French cooperation in small boats had “dismantled” 55 organized crime networks.

Mr Sunak said the pair agreed that “criminal gangs should not decide who comes to our country”.

He went on to reject the idea that the new money would fuel French efforts to stop the boats. “These are joint efforts to address a common challenge.”

Mr Sunak had earlier said that giving money to France was a “sensible investment” when the UK spends more than £5m a day on hotels and that the money was already “paying dividends”.

He said: “If you look at the history of the last two years more recently, not only have we been able to intercept thousands of boats this year alone, actually, which is positive, working together has resulted in something like a few hundred different arrests, they’ve broken up about 50 different organized crime gangs.

“This is the result of all this joint work, so these are sensible investments for the UK.”

He added: “What we want to do is stop people coming to the UK and working with the French teams on the ground helps us do that…

“If we can strengthen and deepen that partnership today, I think that would be a positive step forward.”

The summit between Mr Sounac and Mr Macron comes days after the prime minister and Suella Braverman introduced the illegal immigration bill, which would see migrants arriving on small boats deported and barred from returning.

The French have already stopped about 50 percent of people trying to cross the channel this year, about 3,000 in total. The percentage of boats that have been prevented from leaving French shores is 64%. But the UK is keen to see these figures rise.

Almost 3,000 people have arrived by small boat in the UK already this year, with almost 46,000 arriving in 2022.

In a sign of how much Anglo-French relations have thawed in recent months, the two men decided to break with tradition and held a one-on-one meeting without officials for more than an hour.

The relationship between the two countries – which proved frosty under Boris Johnson – hit a new low last year when Liz Truss said the jury was “out” on whether Macron was friend or foe.

But he and Mr Sunak have forged a relationship that some have labeled “Le Bromance Part II”, a phrase originally coined when Boris Johnson was in power.

“I can’t understand the past, all I can do is look forward,” Mr Sunak said when asked if “Le Bromance” was back between French and British leaders as the two men then walked up the palace steps of the Elysees. hand in hand together.

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