British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives at the Fairmont Hotel in Windsor
British PM Rishi Sunak meets Belfast businesses, in Northern Ireland

Britain hopes to start talks with the European Union on a deal that would eventually allow it to return migrants arriving via small boats, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Friday, hoping to benefit from recent improvements in UK-EU relations.

Speaking to reporters on his way to Paris for a summit with French President Emmanuel Macron, Sunak said his immediate priority was working with France to strengthen cooperation to stop the small migrant boats crossing the Channel into Britain.

But, he said part of the longer-term solution would have to be a conversation with the EU about an arrangement to allow Britain to return migrants to EU countries - a little-used right it previously had, but gave up when it left the bloc.

"Over time, having those conversations with the EU is definitely a part of it," Sunak said when asked what it would take to secure a so-called returns agreement.

"That will take a bit longer time to have those conversations, relative to the things we need to do now."

Shorter term, Sunak indicated he was open to providing more funding to France to help stop boats from leaving French shores, but stressed that any investment must deliver value for money and could only ever be one part of a bigger plan.

He said he hoped to raise the prospect of an EU returns deal with Macron when they met later in the day, seeking to capitalise on improved relations following his recent agreement with the EU to resolve trade issues around Northern Ireland.

"I think now post the Windsor Framework being agreed my hope is that that opens up other areas of constructive engagement and dialogue and cooperation with the EU," Sunak said.