Britain and France are negotiating to take joint control of a new nuclear power station project in the UK, with an agreement expected within the next two weeks.
The deal over the ownership of the Sizewell C plant in Suffolk, east England, is among the first fruits of a rapprochement between the two countries after years of discord in the wake of Brexit.
UK prime minister Liz Truss met French president Emmanuel Macron in Prague at the inaugural meeting of a new grouping of European states, the European Political Community, on Thursday, where they agreed to press ahead with the project that is vital to Britain’s future electricity supply.
The 3.2-gigawatt Sizewell C plant is expected to be capable of producing electricity for around six million British homes.
Since the UK left the EU in 2020, a series of squalls have hit the relationship. London and Paris have squabbled over migrants crossing the Channel, border queues, French fishing boats and British sewage entering the North Sea.
But on Thursday both leaders agreed to increase their co-operation over energy, migration and convened the first Anglo-French summit for five years to take place in 2023.
Macron welcomed a “new phase of our common relations” at the meeting. The personal relationship between him and Boris Johnson was also often tense with the French leader regarding the former prime minister as an unreliable partner.
The UK and French state-controlled energy group EDF are each expected to take a 50 per cent share in the company developing Sizewell C as part of a move that is also designed to remove Chinese nuclear group CGN from the deal, according to people briefed on the plan.
The UK and French governments would both shoulder development costs, which run into the hundreds of millions of pounds, under the terms of the agreement, but would then be free to sell their stakes to new investors.
The UK is hoping to persuade external investors such as infrastructure and pension funds to provide the additional equity and debt to fund the construction of the plant — which EDF estimated will cost £20bn in 2015 prices — to improve energy security following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
A final investment decision on Sizewell is due in late 2023, after which point EDF would own no more than 20 per cent of the project if construction plans go ahead, the people added.
Britain and France have also been in intense discussions over how to keep power flowing between the two countries this winter, even as Paris struggles with outages at its fleet of nuclear reactors.
One senior Downing Street figure said: “There is a genuine desire to work closely together on the big issues facing Europe and the world. Energy and migration in particular are the areas where both agree collective action and greater co-operation is needed.”
Macron and Truss’s joint statement said they would hold a broader meeting on illegal migration in the so-called Calais format, which includes UK, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
One British official said there “there will be something in weeks rather than months” on combating the illegal trade in migrants.
Negotiations over the annual UK funding for France for border security had been in a deadlock. Under the last agreement, signed in 2021, the UK sent about €60mn to France in exchange for specific policing and control measures along the border but ministers have complained France has not done enough to stop small boat crossings.