PARIS (Reuters) -Britain’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the issue of clandestine migration across the English Channel in their first telephone conversation since Sunak took office, the British government said.
However, while both sides sought in comments after the conversation to smooth over recent bilateral tensions, the French government did not mention the issue of migration in its readout.
Macron congratulated Sunak on his appointment as prime minister, the Elysee said, adding the two agreed to prepare a bilateral summit next year.
The French president viewed the war in Ukraine and the fight against climate change as common challenges and was ready to deepen the ties between the two countries, it said.
A Downing Street spokesperson said Sunak stressed the importance of the UK’s relationship with France, which he called “our neighbour and ally”.
Relations between France and Britain have come under stress in recent years, in particular since Britain left the European Union in early 2020, and the countries have often traded blame for an array of problems, including post-Brexit fishing disputes and the failure to stem a flow of clandestine migrants across the English Channel.
“The Prime Minister stressed the importance for both nations to make the Channel route completely unviable for people traffickers”, the Downing Street spokesperson said after the call.
The topic of migration was not mentioned in the readout provided by Macron’s office.
The Times reported on Thursday that Sunak was seeking a new deal with France to include targets for how many boats are stopped from reaching the UK.
The report also added that there will be new targets for staff in UK’s interior ministry, known as the Home Office, to process 80% of asylum claims within six months, with proposals including bonuses on meeting certain targets.
(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Muvija M and Michel Rose;Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)