France's President Emmanuel Macron (left) greets Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as he arrives for a meeting on the occasion of 36th Franco-British bilateral summit at the Elysee Palace, on March 10, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

PARIS/LONDON: Britain will pay France £480 million ($577 million) over three years to try to stop migrants from travelling in small boats across the Channel, helping to fund enhanced patrols, the use of drones and a detention centre.

At a summit designed to rebuild ties after years of bickering over Brexit, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron said the two sides had agreed to work more closely together.

Sunak has made stopping boat arrivals one of his five priorities after the number of migrants arriving on the south coast of England soared to more than 45,000 last year, up 500% in the last two years.

“It is time for a new start,” Macron said.

“I believe today’s meeting does mark a new beginning, an entente renewed,” added Sunak.

He acknowledged: “If we’re honest, the relationship between our two countries has had its challenges in recent years.”

Under the deal, for the first time the UK will help fund a detention centre in France to enhance its ability to cope with the number of people being trafficked across the Channel.

“We don’t need to manage this problem, we need to break it,” said Sunak.

“And today, we have gone further than ever before to put an end to this disgusting trade in human life.”

As part of the new deal, Britain will help fund a detention centre in France while Paris will deploy more French personnel and enhanced technology to patrol its beaches. Officers from both countries will also look to work with countries along the routes favoured by people traffickers.

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Macron welcomes Sunak. Image Credit: AFP

The funding package will be paid in instalments, with the French also contributing significantly more funding, they said.

“Emmanuel and I share the same beliefs,” Sunak said.

“Criminal gangs should not get to decide who comes to our country. Within weeks of my coming into office, we agreed our largest ever small boats deal and today we’ve taken our cooperation to an unprecedented level to tackle this shared challenge.” Ties between the two countries have often been rocky since Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, but have been fortified by the countries’ support for Ukraine since Russia’s invasion.

Contrary to recent mudslinging, Macron welcomed Sunak at the Elysee palace and the two greeted each other with smiles and mutual back-slapping.

The two former investment bankers, accompanied by seven ministers on each side, also met business leaders from both countries.

Sunak, who became Britain’s prime minister in October, is hoping to capitalise on renewed goodwill with France and the wider European Union after he struck the Windsor Framework - a new agreement with the bloc aimed at fixing problems with Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Later this month, King Charles will also travel to France on his first state visit as monarch.