Will 'warmer' UK-French relationship help tackle small boat crossings?

Rishi Sunak talks to media in a train during his travelling to France. Credit: AP

Among the barrage of questions fired at Rishi Sunak from journalists travelling with him to Paris was, of course, the subject of Gary Lineker. "I strongly believe that what we're doing is the right thing to do," said the PM, responding to the football pundit's tweet comparing the policy to 1930s Germany. Mr Sunak said he believes he would prove Mr Lineker wrong. Asked if he thought the "Gary Lineker's of the world will realise over time that they've got it wrong", he said: "I think, I hope, everyone over time realises that this is the right approach because we've looked at lots of other things, we've tried lots of other ways, and nothing else has worked."

The comments came as the PM and several cabinet ministers headed to the Paris to meet Emmanuel Macron and other counterparts - the first summit like this since 2018. Mr Sunak said the new small boats bill that will see asylum seekers immediately detained and removed from the UK was only one part of the solution - with more money for France to patrol its beaches and hopes for a returns programme to send people back to European countries. After a cooling of relations between the UK and France during Boris Johnson's time - and then again when Liz Truss said the jury was out on whether France was a "friend of foe" - Mr Sunak seems to have developed a warmer relationship with his French counterpart.

Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron talk during the French-British summit at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Credit: AP

This morning he called this a new chapter in the relationship" that he said he wanted to strengthen because there is "an enormous amount of potential in it". So does this new era of smiles, kisses and hugs, that some have described as a "bromance", mean anything different on policy? On the question of how to deter asylum seekers from attempting deadline crossings of the Channel on small boats - there is some movement.

Today, the PM is expected to agree to pay France tens of millions of pounds to increase patrols on French beaches, to try to push up the proportion of small boats that are intercepted before they begin a journey across the channel. This comes on top of a deal signed soon after he became PM. With rumours of figures exceeding £200 million over three years - is it value for money? In response, Mr Sunak described the rising number of asylum seekers crossing the channel as a "joint problem" and talked of the benefits of the earlier deal which he claimed meant they were "able to intercept thousands of boats just this year". "I think it would be wrong to characterise it as 'we are paying someone else to do something else'. This is a shared and joint endeavour to reduce illegal migration... and it's not just a challenge that the French and ourselves face. It's a broader European challenge," he said. But he did argue that if we are investing this money - we want to make sure that it will make a difference, insisting he would not spend money he thought wasn't working. Mr Sunak also said that he would be raising the issue of a returns agreement with the EU - so that asylum seekers can be sent to France or other EU countries.

But on the French side - insiders suggested - this was not on the agenda. And sources made clear that there will be no returns agreement sorted today.

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