British, French leaders seek migration deal in reset summit

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Friday met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris for a bridge-building summit, aimed at overcoming years of Brexit tensions and agreeing a new pact on cross-Channel migration.

Sunak hailed as "essential" the relationship between the two neighbours ahead of talks, where the pair were also expected to vow more support for Ukraine and security in the Asia-Pacific region, Downing Street said.

Macron welcomed Sunak at the Elysee Palace, after the premier travelled to Paris by train from London. A press conference was expected in the afternoon.

It is the first UK-French summit in five years, after Sunak became prime minister in October, following the stormy tenures of Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.

Macron's distrust of Brexit figurehead Johnson was barely concealed, while Truss said she didn't know whether the French leader was a "friend or foe" during her campaign to become prime minister.

But both sides now see an opportunity to reset the "Entente Cordiale" between Western Europe's two nuclear powers.

"I hope it can be the start of a stronger relationship between us and it's a privilege to be able to play a part in that," Sunak told reporters as he travelled over.

- 'Scourge of illegal migration' -

The new constructive mood is set 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.

Britain has been paying France to help patrol the Channel, and a summit pact will focus on "increasing the resources deployed to manage this common border, with multi-year financing", an aide to Macron said.

The Times newspaper reported that the deal would be for around 200 million pounds (225 million euros, $240 million), spread out over three years.

Sunak is under fierce pressure at home to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving in Britain, and this week unveiled legislation that critics said would make Britain an international outlaw on refugee rights.

"There is no one silver bullet to solve this problem. So the legislation we introduced this week is incredibly important, cooperation with the French is important, illegal migration enforcement at home is important," Sunak explained.

He also confirmed that the European Political Community -- a Macron initiative formed after Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago -- will be hosted by Britain following an October summit in Spain.

- 'European partners' -

Although Britain's exit from the European Union still bedevils ties, recent developments, including an agreement to settle the EU trading status of Northern Ireland, have created goodwill.

The two neighbours have also found common cause in supporting Ukraine against Russia.

Sunak and Macron will agree to "further coordinate both the supply of weapons to Ukraine and the training of Ukrainian marines", a Downing Street statement said.

As well as Ukrainian soldiers and marines, Britain has undertaken to train Ukrainian pilots -- although Western allies are wary of offering fighter jets to Kyiv.

The leaders will further look at ensuring a "permanent presence of likeminded European partners" in the Asia-Pacific, where concerns about China's growing assertiveness are shared in both capitals.

Sunak and Macron were expected to agree on closer coordination of the deployment of France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier with the Royal Navy's brand-new carriers -- HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

Both countries sent their carriers through the contested South China Sea in 2021.

- 'New energy' -

As part of the British government's post-Brexit outreach, the summit paves the way for King Charles III to make France his first foreign destination when he heads there on a state visit at the end of March.

While Johnson revelled in French-bashing, Sunak says he and Macron are "friends", with their warm embrace during their first encounter in November sparking light-hearted speculation about a "bromance".

They are similar ages, 45 and 42, and are former investment bankers. Both were schooled privately, grew up in provincial towns and have fathers with medical backgrounds.

"I would be careful to read too much into the 'bromance', but it's true they come from a similar background and generation, which has an impact on how they see their countries' roles in the world," Alice Billon-Galland, a research fellow at the Chatham House think-tank in London, told AFP.

"Both of them bring a new energy. Both sides really do want for this (summit) to be a success."