BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday offered France 44.5 million pounds to bolster security at French border controls, part of measures to deepen cooperation that she hopes will foster goodwill in Brexit talks.
At talks with French President Emmanuel Macron at Sandhurst, Britain’s army officer training academy, May sought to show that Britain still has plenty to offer France and other members of the European Union as she negotiates her country’s departure.
After a lunch of dressed crab and duck at the Michelin-starred Royal Oak pub in southern England’s Maidenhead where she is a local lawmaker, May and Macron watched a guard of honour at Sandhurst before heading into talks.
But despite the choreographed display of cordiality and new agreements to be signed at the 35th Anglo-French summit, the overtures, including the loan of the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry, fell flat in Britain’s eurosceptic media.
“What a stitch up! Did borrowing the Bayeux Tapestry cost Britain 45 million pounds more to stop migrants at Calais,” the Daily Mail asked, while the Sun mocked up the depiction of how William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 as a tale of the EU trying to stop Britain leaving the bloc.
May has long seen defence and security as one of Britain’s strongest arguments for gaining leverage in talks to unravel more than 40 years of union. But France and other member states have been cool on allowing Britain to bypass Brussels.
After lobbying from Macron for Britain to help with security at Channel ports that have become a focus for migrants, London said an additional 44.5 million pounds would be sent to France to help improve fencing, CCTV and technology.
“This is about investing in and enhancing the security of the UK border,” a government spokesman said.
“Just as we invest in our borders around the rest of the UK, it is only right that we constantly monitor whether there is more we can be doing at the UK border controls in France and Belgium to ensure they are as secure as possible.”
A French official said earlier this week that Britain had paid 140 million euros (£123.35 million) in the past three years towards border and security infrastructure, and some of May’s pro-Brexit lawmakers criticised the offer of more cash.
The move comes alongside a raft of cooperation agreements at a summit where both leaders want to discuss “shared interests and priorities” rather than Brexit, especially after the EU has stepped up calls for Britain to change its mind.
In a statement, May said though she was meeting Macron as Britain prepared to leave the EU a “strong relationship” between the two countries was in the interests of all, now and in the future.
May’s spokesman said militant attacks in Britain and France underscored the need for cooperation, highlighted by the first meeting on Thursday of the five heads of British and French intelligence agencies.
The two are expected to commit to joint military operations including a combined expeditionary force.
Britain will pledge to send three Chinook helicopters to Mali to support French counter-terrorism operations there and to participate in a new European defence initiative. France has committed to contribute troops to British-led NATO forces in Estonia in 2019.
Overall, aides on both sides hope the summit will show the strength of ties between the two countries, something one French official said had become more important after the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.
“We all share a slight concern about what’s going on in the United States, and in these times you feel the need to turn to people close to you to keep warm,” a French presidential aide said.