London: Prime Minister Theresa May was on Thursday set to welcome French President Emmanuel Macron for a high-profile summit, which was preceded by a British promise to pay more for border security in the migrant hotspot of Calais.
In what was to be Macron’s first official trip across the Channel, he was to meet May at an army base near London for wide-ranging talks. His arrival was awaited just hours after the UK government pledged an extra 44.5 million pounds (Dh225.7 million) to boost security around Calais following a request from Macron.
The funding will go towards fencing, CCTV and detection technology in the northern French port city as well as at other points along the Channel from which migrants regularly attempt to reach British shores by ferry or train.
While the two countries cooperate closely in numerous areas, including intelligence and defence, differences over migration have strained ties.
The money would be on top of more than 100 million pounds already paid by Britain following a border deal between the two countries that has now been renegotiated and was due to be signed on Thursday.
The announcement followed France playing its own diplomatic card with a promise to loan Britain the Bayeux Tapestry.
The offer was confirmed by May who on Wednesday heralded the “very significant” decision to temporarily move the celebrated thousand-years-old artwork, which depicts the Norman conquest of England.
May’s Downing Street office said the summit was an opportunity to “further our shared aims and ambitions and demonstrate our close ties.”
The British and French leaders also aim to deepen cooperation in tackling terrorism at the meeting, as the UK tries to strengthen bilateral ties before leaving the European Union in March 2019.
The gathering at Sandhurst military academy — the 35th UK-France summit — was expected to focus on the sensitive issue of immigration as hundreds of people continue to camp out in Calais.
In addition to more funds from Britain, a UK government spokesperson said May was also expected to welcome young refugees stuck in the city.
The two countries currently abide by the 15-year-old Treaty of Le Touquet, which permits immigration checks within each other’s borders.
A new treaty was expected to be signed at Thursday’s summit to complement the 2003 deal, according to French officials.
The extra 44.5-million-pound pledge was criticised in the British press, with the right-wing Daily Mail calling the Bayeux Tapestry offer as “a sweetener” and dubbing the Calais agreement “Le Stich-up!”
Macron was expected to confirm on Thursday that France would agree in principle to loan the fragile 941-year-old embroidery.
The Sun tabloid created its own “Bye-EU Tapestry”, charting Britain’s victorious exit from the European Union.
Despite Brexit dominating the political debate in the UK, the issue was not scheduled for formal discussion at the summit but it was likely come up in talks on other topics, a British official said.
The British Prime Minister was also set to commit to sending Royal Air Force (RAF) helicopters to a key French counter-terrorism operation in Mali.
The deployment of three RAF Chinook helicopters to provide logistic support to French troops tackling militants across Africa’s Sahel region is part of broader counter-terrorism and military efforts there by the UN, the EU and the African Union.
It is seen as particularly significant as France is lacking in such capabilities and Britain’s commitment could mark the start of a longer-term deployment in the region.
“Recent terrorist attacks across Europe underline the scale of the cross-border challenge we face in keeping our citizens safe,” a UK government spokesperson said.
France in turn has agreed to commit troops to the British-led Nato battlegroup in Estonia in 2019.
Officials said it would build on the joint deployment of soldiers to the Baltic country whom the two leaders visited together last year.
At the summit, May and Macron were also to discuss their joint crackdown on online extremism “to ensure that the internet cannot be used as a safe space for terrorists and criminals”, the spokesperson said.
Britain was also expected to allocate 50 million pounds in additional aid for those affected by epidemics, natural disasters and conflict across Mali, Niger, Chad, North Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
The British government hopes the cash will help provide 320,000 people with emergency food and provide protection for 255,000 refugees.