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Leaders of Britain and France seek to strengthen security and intelligence ties ahead of Brexit

Leaders of Britain and France seek to strengthen security and intelligence ties ahead of Brexit
French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May attend a ceremony at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, west of London on Thursday. (Ludovic Marin / AFP/Getty Images)

The leaders of Britain and France met Thursday against a military backdrop, with the U.K. promising to help boost border security in France and support French military missions as part of moves to bind the countries closer together after Brexit.

The announcement came as British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron held a bilateral summit intended to strengthen security and intelligence ties between the neighboring nations, and to build goodwill as Britain negotiates its exit from the European Union.

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The venue — the Sandhurst military academy southwest of London — was selected as a signal that the relationship between western Europe's two biggest military powers won't be weakened once Britain leaves the EU in 2019.

May treated the French leader to a pub lunch of crab and duck breast, followed by a serving of British military pomp. Macron was greeted at the Sandhurst officer-training academy by a band and troops from the Coldstream Guards in gray coats and bearskin hats.

Amid a sudden hailstorm, Macron and May inspected the troops before taking a salute from soldiers on horseback.

Senior ministers from the two countries were attending the one-day meeting, and will sign agreements on everything from space exploration to tackling online extremism.

In a significant gesture, May offered funds to ease French annoyance over a 2003 deal that placed British border controls in Calais, on the French side of the English Channel. The town has become a magnet for migrants hoping to reach Britain, and the accord puts the burden of blocking their entry to the U.K. on France.

Britain agreed to pay $62 million for fences, security cameras and other measures in Calais and nearby English Channel ports. France also wants Britain to take in more migrants from Calais, especially unaccompanied children, but there was no announcement on any agreement on that issue Thursday.

The U.K. also said it will send three Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters and dozens of personnel to join France's military mission against Islamic militants in Africa's Sahel region. France has led efforts to fight Al Qaeda and Islamic State-linked groups in the vast region south of the Sahara desert.

The leaders of the five main U.K. and French spy agencies were also meeting for the first time Thursday, as the two countries seek to increase intelligence-sharing. France and Britain have both faced a string of violent attacks by extremists inspired or directed by Islamic State.

May said the U.K.-French summit "will underline that we remain committed to defending our people and upholding our values as liberal democracies in the face of any threat, whether at home or abroad."

In a boost to Macron, Britain is throwing its backing behind the European Intervention Initiative, a multinational European military force that the French president has proposed. He also wants a common European defense budget and security doctrine.

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