UK will pay France US$62 million for border security and lend troops for French missions after Brexit

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 2:22am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 9:44am

The UK will pay £44.5 million (US$62 million, HK$50 million) to boost border security with France and support French military missions in moves intended to bind the countries closer together after Brexit, it has emerged.

The announcement came as UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron held a bilateral summit intended to strengthen their security and intelligence ties as Britain negotiates its exit from the European Union.

In a significant gesture, May offered funds to ease French annoyance over a 2003 deal that placed British border controls in Calais, on the French side of the English Channel.

The town has become a magnet for migrants hoping to reach Britain, and the accord puts the burden of blocking their entry to the UK on France.

Britain agreed to pay £44.5 million for fences, security cameras and other measures in Calais and nearby English Channel ports.

France also wants Britain to take in more migrants from Calais, especially unaccompanied children, but there was no announcement on any agreement on that issue Thursday.

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In another gesture, the UK will send three Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters and dozens of personnel to join France’s military mission against Islamic militants in Africa’s Sahel region.

France has led efforts to fight al-Qaeda and IS-linked jihadi groups in the vast region south of the Sahara desert.

In a boost to Macron, Britain is also throwing its backing behind the European Intervention Initiative, a multinational European military force that the French president has proposed. He also wants a common European defence budget and security doctrine.

The plan is in its early stages, but British officials don’t see it as an “EU army,” an idea on which the UK has long been cool.

In return, France will send troops to join a UK-led Nato battle group in Estonia in 2019, aimed at countering an increasingly assertive Russia.

Senior ministers from the two countries attended the one-day meeting between May and Macron, and will sign agreements on everything from space exploration to tackling online extremism.

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The leaders of the five main UK and French spy agencies also met for the first time Thursday, as the two countries seek to increase intelligence-sharing.

France and Britain have both faced a string of violent attacks by extremists inspired or directed by the Islamic State group.

May said the UK-French summit “will underline that we remain committed to defending our people and upholding our values as liberal democracies in the face of any threat, whether at home or abroad.”

Macron, on his first visit to the UK since winning the presidency in May 2017, also bears news that France will loan Britain the Bayeux Tapestry, an 11th-century panorama depicting the conquest of England by the Normans, from the Normandy region of what is now France.

The medieval masterpiece depicts a key moment in British history – one with particular resonance as Britain prepares to leave the EU.

Many in Britain welcomed news of the loan, but the country’s Eurosceptic tabloids weren’t impressed. “Le Stitch-up,” said The Daily Mail, depicting the tapestry as a poor exchange for the millions of pounds that Britain has agreed to hand over.

The meeting was held in Sandhurst military academy southwest of London – which was intended to signal that the relationship between western Europe’s two biggest military powers won’t be weakened once the UK leaves the EU in 2019.

May treated the French leader to a pub lunch of crab and duck breast, followed by a serving of British military pomp. Macron was greeted at the Sandhurst officer-training academy by a band and troops from the Coldstream Guards in grey coats and bearskin hats.

Amid a sudden hailstorm, Macron and May inspected the troops before taking a salute from soldiers on horseback.

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