French President Emmanuel Macron will make his first visit to the UK since being elected on Thursday for the 35th UK French summit.
Prime Minister Theresa May will welcome the President with a private lunch before travelling together to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Berkshire where they will be met with a guard of honour.
There the two leaders will discuss military co-operation, intelligence sharing, trade and migration before a joint press conference. UK Cabinet Ministers and their French counterparts will also be in attendance for wider discussions on trade, science and cultural ties.
May will be hoping to use the 35th UK French Summit to underline the strength of British-French relations. Particularly to highlight the uniquely close military relationship of the former enemies turned allies and now Europe’s only two nuclear powers.
The two leaders will announce that the UK and France are to step-up co-operation on shared threats with both countries cities having suffered devastating terrorist attacks in the past three years.
The Prime Minister will also announce support to bolster France’s fight against terrorism in Africa with three RAF Chinook helicopter being sent to Mali as part of Operation BARKHANE.
The helicopters, which will provide logistic support to French troops, are part of a wider effort to increase stability in the Sahel region of Africa in order to tackle Islamist terrorism and stem the flow of migration to Europe.
President Macron will announce a commitment for French troops will join the UK-led NATO battlegroup in Estonia in 2019. These forces will make up part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Eastern Europe, providing deterrence in the face of increasing Russian assertiveness.
Ever closer defence?
The decision to send these forces together is designed to underline both countries commitment to upholding the deterrence and defence posture of NATO and a commitment to European security in uncertain times.
May believes that defence is one of the key cards the UK has to play in the Brexit negotiations given the size of British armed forces and intelligence expertise.
Since becoming President last May, Macron has been pressing Germany and other EU states to forge closer defence ties. Last September the President proposed a European Intervention Initiative (EII) in a speech about the post-Brexit EU at the Sorbonne University.
President Macron is still keen for the UK to join the EII despite Brexit and will use the summit to try to convince the Prime Minister of the benefit of closer military co-operation alongside other significant European military powers like Germany, Italy and Spain.
Speaking ahead of the meeting the Prime Minister said: "France is one of the UK's oldest and closest allies and our partnership is one that we both rely on.
"We also work closely together as the only European countries who are permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as members of the G7, G20 and Nato, upholding our shared faith in the rules-based international system.
"And our two countries also enjoy deep economic ties, sharing £71 billion in trade, making France the UK's third-largest trading partner."
Rumble in the jungle or entente cordiale?
One matter on which the two leaders are likely to have differing views however is the French President’s desire to revisit the Le Touquet Accord on border controls. Under the agreement the UK border controls are conducted on French soil but before his election Macron warned France would no longer be the UK’s “coast guard” and vowed to put Le Touquet back on the table.
The President visited Calais on Tuesday promising not to allow another ‘Jungle’ migrant camp to develop. The camp was dismantled in 2016 but organisations estimate around 700 have returned and continue to try to gain access to the UK through the port.
Elysee Palace sources claim France has strong-armed Britain into revisiting the 2003 agreement for discussion. President Macron will demand the UK government does more to help by upping financial contributions and creating a “joint operational task force”.
A contentious issue in Britain highlighted during the Brexit referendum, the Prime Minister will be resistant to any major changes as she tries to reach a target of migration in the tens of thousands inadvertently set by her predecessor David Cameron.
Royal charm offensive
Princes William and Harry, who both trained at the elite military academy, will also attend the summit. The younger Royals are increasingly being used in a charm offensive with Europe as the Brexit negotiations continue.
In return the French President is expected to announce tomorrow that the Victoria and Albert museum in London will play host to the Bayeux Tapestry in 2023. It’s believed the tapestry which depicts William the Conquerer, an ancestor of the Princes themselves, taking the English crown at the Battle of Hastings was sewn in England but has resided in Normandy for centuries.
Two previous attempts in the past century to have the tapestry temporarily displayed in the UK failed and it’s being seen an olive branch to the UK from France during tense negotiations in Brussels on the two countries future relationship.