The Winds of Change in UK-France Relations

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On March 10, 2023, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak paid an official visit to France. Sunak’s visit was the first France-UK Summit since French President Emmanuel Macron met with then-British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018.[1] Therefore, this matter shows how important the visit of the UK Prime Minister is. Moreover, considering that the UK’s relations with the European Union (EU) have deteriorated with the Brexit process, the joint steps to be taken with France, one of the leading countries of the bloc, gain more importance.

With Sunak becoming Prime Minister, it is seen that the relations between UK and France have developed. In particular, it can be argued that the two countries have achieved a chemistry harmony between the leaders. Both Macron and Sunak, in addition to being young politicians, had worked in the finance sector for a long time. In this sense, there are similarities between the two leaders.

In particular, relations between the UK and France were quite tense in September 2021. The AUKUS Pact, implemented by the United Kingdom, the United States (US) and Australia, has a decisive role in this. Because Australia withdrew from the agreement it signed with France to build a joint submarine as part of the AUKUS Pact and instead signed an agreement to purchase and produce nuclear submarine technology from the US and the UK.

In this context, a harmony of chemistry between the two leaders could not be achieved during the tenure of the then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Macron. Liz Truss became the UK Prime Minister in September 2022 after Johnson resigned, which led to a further deterioration of relations on the London-Paris line. In particular, Truss’ statement that she could not decide whether Macron was a friend or not[2]  increased the tension between the parties.

On the other hand, during Sunak’s visit, France and UK agreed to strengthen military ties between the two countries and increase efforts to prevent irregular migrants from crossing the English Channel. Accordingly, the London administration has agreed to pay Paris more than 500 million euros over the next three years for measures such as a detention centre for migrants in northern France, a joint command centre and further patrols of the French coastline using drones and an additional 500 French police officers.[3]

It is no coincidence that Sunak visited France in the week when a law on the prevention of irregular migration to the UK was being discussed. Because the London administration wants to cooperate with Paris against irregular migration. In this respect, it is important for the London administration to stop the migrants trying to enter the country through the English Channel. At this point, the partnership with France is important.

As can be understood, preventing irregular migration is one of the main priorities of the Sunak administration. Sunak announced his five pledges in January 2023.[4] In this context, migration was considered within the scope of security and it was aimed to minimize irregular migration.

Especially in 2022, a large number of irregular migrants have tried to enter the UK through the English Channel.  Therefore, UK’s relations with Albania were strained. Because most of those who entered the country were of Albanian origin. For this reason, Sunak has announced its five-point plan to deport Albanian migrants trying to come to the UK through the English Channel by the end of 2023. Predictably, the focus of UK’s migration policy is on Albanians.

On the other hand, another issue that Macron and Sunak focused on was Ukraine. In this context, France and UK decided to train Ukrainian marines. Sunak pointed out that Paris and London share a “special bond and responsibility” when Europe’s security is threatened, and that the two countries will always be at the forefront of defending Europe. Sunak also said, “We have left the EU, but we have not left Europe.”[5]

Based on Sunak’s words, it is understood that the UK wants to play an active role in the defense of Europe. It is also noteworthy that the UK Prime Minister has made a sharp distinction between the EU and Europe. The London administration has been the actor that provided the most military support to Kyiv after Washington during the Russia-Ukraine War. [6] Therefore, it is seen that the country that provides the most military support to Ukraine among the European countries is UK. In this respect, the ongoing war in Ukraine and the partnership that Paris and London will develop in this direction may open the door for the relations between the parties to gain momentum.

Consequently, with Sunak’s visit, the relations on the Paris-London line have entered a serious process of change. In this context, it is understood that the relations between the parties, which have been tense for a long time, will begin to evolve into a positive point. Therefore, the Macron-Sunak meeting symbolizes a new beginning between UK and France.

[1] “First France-UK Summit in Five Years Hopes to Mend Battered Friendship”, RFI,, (Date of Accession: 13.03.2023).

[2] “Serious Problem if France and UK Can’t Tell İf They’re Friends or Enemies, Says Macron”, The Guardian,, (Date of Accession 13.03.2023).

[3] “Macron and Sunak Mend Ties, As Leaders Agree to Tackle Channel Boats”, Euronews,, (Date of Accession: 13.03.2023).

[4]  “Rishi Sunak’s Five Promises Analysed”, BBC,, (Date of Accession: 13.03.2023).

[5] “UK, France Agree to Train Ukrainian Marines”, AA,, (Date of Accession: 13.03.2023).

[6] “UK Military Support For Ukraine Continues With Delivery of Counter Explosive Ordnance Equipment”, Government of United Kingdom,, (Date of Accession: 13.03.2023).

Cemal Ege ÖZKAN
Cemal Ege Özkan, 2019 yılında Ankara Üniversitesi Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Fakültesi Tarih Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2022 senesinde aynı üniversitenin Türk İnkılap Tarihi Enstitüsü Atatürk İlkeleri ve İnkılap Tarihi Anabilim Dalı’nda hazırladığı “Türk Siyasi Hayatında Selim Rauf Sarper ve Faaliyetleri” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Hâlihazırda aynı enstitüde doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. 2020-2021 yılları arasında Türk Tarih Kurumu Yüksek Lisans Bursiyeri olan Özkan, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.