Liz Truss and Emmanuel Macron will on Thursday hold their first talks on how to tackle the cross-Channel migration crisis on the fringes of the French president’s inaugural European Political Community gathering.
The Prime Minister faced criticism after failing to broach the issue when she met her French counterpart at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month.
She will tell Mr Macron that Europe needs to better collaborate to tackle migration as the EU’s 27 member states meet with 16 other leaders, including those from Ukraine, Norway, Turkey, the Western Balkans and Switzerland.
Ahead of the meeting in Prague on Thursday, Tory MPs warned the Prime Minister not to engage in any attempt to bring Britain back into the EU’s fold via the backdoor.
The gathering in the Czech capital comes amid thawing relations with Brussels and the potential for a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol after almost two years of deadlock on the post-Brexit trade arrangements.
After months of criticism of Britain’s stance, Ireland on Wednesday said the “mood music” between the two countries had “changed quite fundamentally”.
‘Europe’s biggest crisis since the Second World War’
Ms Truss will use her opening intervention at the Paris-organised summit to call on Europe to come together to tackle Britain’s most imminent crises, including migration and energy.
The prime minister will urge her continental counterparts to help "keep the lights on" amid fears over energy rationing and blackouts.
The National Grid is expected to warn there will be a risk of shortages this winter if electricity cannot be imported.
Ms Truss will tell leaders that gas and electricity interconnectors - which allow energy to flow between the UK and Europe - must be kept open.
It comes amid reports that the National Grid and energy providers could launch a public information campaign to encourage rationing, urging the public to shower instead of bath and turn down the thermostat.
“Europe is facing its biggest crisis since the Second World War,” she will say. “And we have faced it together with unity and resolve.”
“We must continue to stand firm - to ensure that Ukraine wins this war, but also to deal with the strategic challenges that it has exposed.”
The Prime Minister will set out her plan for the UK to play a leading role in European decision-making from outside the EU.
The meeting will be held after the European Scrutiny Committee warned Ms Truss not to get sucked into a shadow EU.
The Elysee was at pains to stress that the first meeting of the European Political Community was not an EU through the backdoor or betrayal of Brexit.
“This is not an EU-type of summit. This summit is compatible with the UK’s decision regarding the EU. It’s a signal sent by the UK which shows their willingness to be part of the continent’s security debate,” the Elysee said.
The meeting of EU and non-EU nations was the brainchild of the French president.
Mr Macron used a speech in the European Parliament in May to invite the UK to the new forum, which is designed to allow for closer ties between EU and non-EU nations.
The community is meant to give countries such as Ukraine stronger links with the EU.
Kyiv has applied for EU membership but that takes years or even decades. The new forum deepens ties without the legal obligations or benefits of EU membership.
Volodymyr Zelensky is set to address the summit by video link at an event set to be dominated by talks over Russia’s illegal invasion and migration.
Ms Truss was initially sceptical but warmed to the idea after meeting Mr Macron on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York in September.
It is understood she was reassured the community would not be a rival to Nato.
Olive branch to reset relations with France
Ms Truss has even gone so far as to offer London as the venue for the next meeting of the community, which will take place in six months.
She offered the olive branch as part of an effort to reset relations with France, which have suffered badly in the years after the Brexit referendum.
London and Paris have clashed over issues such as fishing rights after Brexit, sausage exports to Northern Ireland, Channel migrants and vaccines since 2016.
But Mr Macron’s well-pitched response to the death of Queen Elizabeth II has helped repair the breach.
The Prime Minister has also decided that working together with European allies against Russian aggression is worth the risk of angering her base, many of which are ardent Brexiteers.
It comes amid a notable improvement in relations with the EU over the vexed issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Talks are expected to resume, reportedly as soon as Thursday, over cutting checks on British goods crossing the Irish Sea border to Northern Ireland.
Ms Truss has also toned down threats to unilaterally tear up parts of the Protocol with legislation, which has worried unionists but led to renewed optimism a deal could be struck soon and before next April’s 25 anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
The cautious rapprochement with Paris comes after Ms Truss said the jury was out on whether Mr Macron was a friend or foe of Britain during her leadership campaign.