Can the Sunak-Macron bromance help stop the boats?

  • By Chris Mason
  • Political Editor, BBC News

Wandering on the creaking gravel of the Elysée courtyard in Paris, the president and prime minister shared smiles and a brolly.

It was the image that said more than many other words had tried to convey.

These leaders of the same age and background clearly get along; this word “bromance” will find a good training in the writings of the Franco-British summit.

Focusing on the chemistry between political leaders may seem superficial.

But diplomatic relations really matter, especially when the contrast is so stark.

As throwaway or joking as that remark may have been, it’s impossible not to notice the contrast now.

Mr Sunak has placed great importance on what he sees as restoring the UK as an honest broker and reliable ally on the world stage after the chaos of Ms Truss’ brief term as Prime Minister and what the could gently be described as the idiosyncrasies of Boris Johnson.

Mr Johnson and President Macron were a million miles apart on Brexit.

But, remember, the president and Mr. Sunak are too.

Mr Macron pointedly claimed the implications of the UK’s departure from the European Union had been “underestimated” by some of his supporters.

Mr Sunak was an early supporter of Brexit.

But diplomats often privately believe that many European leaders have struggled to trust Mr Johnson as prime minister.

Mr Sunak is working hard to try to ensure that is no longer the case now that he is in office.

His calculation is that this is a necessary but not necessarily sufficient approach to achieving his political goals, as well as protecting, or perhaps restoring, the UK’s reputation in the world.

So, beyond questions of personality, let’s look at precisely what happened to this summit.

There have been important discussions between two allies about Ukraine and China.

But the most politically powerful theme for Mr Sunak was small boat crossings.

For a man who has five political priorities, one of which is to stop the boats, doing something to stop at least some of them really matters.

And at least some of them won’t deliver anything quickly – the new detention center will take years to build.

Downing Street believe the funding they had already allocated was good value for money with tangible benefits.

And so their logic is that more could deliver more.

And this promise is clear.

Why on earth would a political leader chain himself to such a harsh promise when this is a complex, international, diplomatically charged and politically risky issue?

When I put this to a well-placed minister, they said the calculation was that any caveats or dilution would have seemed pathetic, and that they would prefer their ambition to be clear, even if the delivery failed.

But there is always a difference between a considerable reduction and no reduction at all.

Or the numbers continue to climb.

Mr Sunak reminded us several times during this summit that there is “no miracle solution” as he puts it to solve the problem of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.

But solving it is what he promised to do.

And so the political danger for the prime minister is simple: anything less than that will be seen by critics as a clear failure.

His political reputation, at least in part, rests on his performance.

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