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Britain, France still regard each other as key strategic partners despite AUKUS: Expert

Despite a trilateral security treaty between Australia, the UK, and the US, which made France “furious” when it was announced in 2021, London and Paris still see each other as their key strategic partner, according to an international relations expert.

Security, defense, and support to Ukraine, as well as English Channel crossings by migrants, were among the important agenda items for the UK and France before they sat down on March 10 as part of the first bilateral summit since 2018.

The very short summit in Paris captured global attention as ties between the two strategic partners were passing through hard times after Brexit and particularly the announcement of the AUKUS pact which cost France a submarine contract worth billions of dollars.

Channel crossings in small boats were another key issue between British Premier Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron as migration became “a blame game” between the two countries from time to time.

However, speaking to Anadolu, Amelia Hadfield, the head of the Politics department of the University of Surrey, said she believed that reacquainting the Lancaster House Treaties is a huge step and result from the summit.

The Lancaster House Treaties are two treaties on defense and security cooperation that were signed in 2010 by then-British Prime Minister David Cameron and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

She said the two sides achieved a majority of their agenda items during the summit, as “they were quite clear on what they wanted to talk about,” added Hadfield, a European and international affairs expert.

Referring to the impact of AUKUS on the ties, she said France was furious when actually the news broke as it is an agreement that does not include them in the Indo-Pacific region, where France “still feels that they have a legitimate toehold.”

“Now happily, Macron and Sunak have agreed also an accompanying amount of naval activity in the Indo-Pacific, so that each side still regards the other as their key strategic partner. But AUKUS is a defense project and a contract that is probably going to make a real impact to the shape of Indo-Pacific security between Australia on the one side and the United Kingdom and the United States on the other.”

During the talks, both leaders highlighted “a new beginning” of the ties as both also stressed that they share many things that bind themselves.

On the timing of the summit, Hadfield stressed the European Political Community (EPC) event that took place last October in Prague and the Windsor agreement, a deal between the EU and the UK that was reached last month, replacing the Northern Ireland Protocol.

She said the summit’s date “probably went in the diary” at the EPC which she called “successful” in kickstarting better relations with Macron.

“The result was very nicely timed like a fortnight before the summit,” said Hadfield, referring to the Windsor framework that was reached with “a lot of patient preparation that took place in December, January, and February.”

The Windsor framework seeks to keep Northern Ireland within the EU’s trade rules while reducing inspections of some goods crossing the Irish Sea from the rest of the UK. Goods bound for Ireland from the UK will still be subject to customs processes while those remaining in the north will not face routine checks.

She went on to say that in general, it was a successful summit for both countries as they have overcome most part of the bilateral challenges.

Elaborating on how the EPC paved the way for mending the ties, Hadfield said that this was the first opportunity for Britain “to be rehabilitated” politically post-Brexit.

“Because of COVID, actually, lots of opportunities were missed to get together face to face. I think the relations were so poor, so toxic under Boris Johnson as the (former UK) prime minister who made no attempt at all to make significant diplomatic inroads. … (UK’s ex-Premier Liz) Truss herself quite literally put her foot in it by categorizing Macron ‘potential foe’ which is a ridiculous thing to say.”

Hadfield said she thinks the UK is beginning to find roots back and they will probably work their way towards a better relationship although they are not going to work their way towards the heart of Brussels, noting: “That’s not going to happen because the decoupling took place on almost every single level, including diplomatically. “

On the other hand, Macron demonstrated that he is willing to have “a recalibrated Britain,” that the two of them make very good bilateral partners, she noted, adding that he has carefully tried to reposition Britain, without upsetting hardline Brexiteers in the UK.

Small boat crossing is an urgent issue for the British as more than 44,000 migrants arrived in the UK across the Channel last year, according to official data.

During the summit, Sunak said the UK will contribute £480 million (nearly $580 million) over a three-year period in partnership with France to help tackle illegal migrant crossings through the English Channel.

On this, Hadfield said the UK had worsening relationships with France over the cross-Channel migration as Britain had blamed France over the climbing number of illegal small boats.

“Certainly, Britain seems to have stumped up quite a lot in terms of money to tackle the Channel crossing. It’s an amount that hasn’t actually made it much into the press because it’s much higher than what was initially trailed,” she noted.

Two countries work together at wider platforms like G-7, G-10, EU, or the UN to achieve this issue, as the root causes of this “tricky issue” are global, underlined Hadfield.

Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine is also another important agenda item between the two leaders who reaffirmed unwavering support for Ukraine.

During the talks, Sunak announced that France and the UK have agreed to train Ukrainian marines, helping Ukraine has “a decisive advantage on the battlefield” and “win this war.”

UK and France share a “special bond and a special responsibility” when the security of Europe is threatened, he noted, adding that the two countries will always be at the forefront of Europe’s defense.

Hadfield also stressed the importance of developments regarding support to Ukraine by mentioning the importance of renewing the Lancaster House Treaties.

“That was a huge step because they’ve produced agreements on civil nuclear cooperation, which really didn’t make it into the news, but also the ability to streamline and operationalize their military and also together to train Ukrainian military,” she said, adding that at this point, nothing could be more important.

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