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ANDREW NEIL: Mud-slinging is pointless. Macron and Boris need a new entente cordiale… 

French President Emmanuel Macron just can’t stop bashing the Brits. This week the volume was turned up to 11 when it was reported he’d called Boris Johnson a ‘clown’ and a ‘knucklehead’.

True, the report was in France’s equivalent of Private Eye. But nobody in the presidential Elysee Palace bothered to deny it.

It was just the latest example of Macron’s penchant for diplomacy by tantrum when it comes to relations with Britain.

A few days before, he’d implied that the UK’s attitude in ongoing post-Brexit talks risked war in Ireland. Earlier this year he questioned the efficacy of the Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine on no scientific grounds whatsoever but merely because he was in a strop after Britain had beaten France to the vaccine punch (France still doesn’t have its own vaccine).

French President Emmanuel Macron just can’t stop bashing the Brits. This week the volume was turned up to 11 when it was reported he’d called Boris Johnson a ‘clown’ and a ‘knucklehead’

So what is it that drives Macron’s anti-British rhetoric? In a word: Brexit. He is a Europhile president who has never forgiven the British for voting to leave the European Union, which he sees as an act of self-inflicted madness and which brings a special piquancy to his dislike of Johnson, who led the Leave campaign

So what is it that drives Macron’s anti-British rhetoric? In a word: Brexit. He is a Europhile president who has never forgiven the British for voting to leave the European Union, which he sees as an act of self-inflicted madness and which brings a special piquancy to his dislike of Johnson, who led the Leave campaign

He’s also unleashed the coterie of sycophantic Europhiles that dominates his cabinet to pour merde on the Brits whenever the fancy takes them.

One threatened to cut off Jersey’s electricity supply from France at the height of the fishing stand-off. Another dismissed us as a ‘vassal of America’. His prime minister said that in dealing with us, France had to realise we only understood the ‘language of force’, which is a strange, threatening thing to say about a supposedly close ally.

In this acrid atmosphere, it’s hardly surprising that Anglo-French talks to resolve the Channel migrant crisis have been getting nowhere.

So what is it that drives Macron’s anti-British rhetoric? In a word: Brexit. He is a Europhile president who has never forgiven the British for voting to leave the European Union, which he sees as an act of self-inflicted madness and which brings a special piquancy to his dislike of Johnson, who led the Leave campaign.

Remember, this is a man who took to the stage for his victory rally in front of the Louvre on election night in 2017 not to the strains of La Marseillaise (the French national anthem) but Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (the anthem of the European Union).

It’s not just anger with Britain that propels his rhetoric. It’s fear of the implications of Brexit for France.

British success cannot be recognised or tolerated.

When the UK clinches a massive submarine deal with Australia and America, stealing it from under the nose of the French; when Unilever and Shell announce they are moving their global headquarters to Britain; when Paris fails to lure any major financial institutions from the City of London — all this throws Macron into paroxysms of anger because it suggests that Global Britain might be more than a slogan. And that can’t be allowed to come into being.

There is no discernible ‘Frexit’ movement in France, but the most serious challengers he faces in his re-election bid next year are all various shapes of Eurosceptic.

So he does all he can to belittle Brexit Britain because any sense that Brexit has been a success would, he fears, merely fuel the French Eurosceptics.

The mainstream centre-Left and centre-Right parties of France were both strongly pro-EU but Macron trounced them in the election four years ago. They have not recovered.

The vacuum has been filled on the hard-Left by Jean-Luc Melenchon, and on the far-Right by Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour. All three despise Brussels and Macron’s ambitions for a more powerful EU

The vacuum has been filled on the hard-Left by Jean-Luc Melenchon, and on the far-Right by Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour. All three despise Brussels and Macron’s ambitions for a more powerful EU

The vacuum has been filled on the hard-Left by Jean-Luc Melenchon, and on the far-Right by Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour. All three despise Brussels and Macron’s ambitions for a more powerful EU.

Macron is dealing with the threat they pose in a pincer movement: he’s moved on to their territory with more populist, nationalist rhetoric about immigration and law and order; and he never misses an opportunity to demean Brexit Britain as an increasingly irrelevant entity cast adrift in unforgiving, unsplendid isolation.

It is, of course, self-serving, unprincipled, opportunistic nonsense. But it’s also a tragedy because this is a time when Anglo-French relations should be getting closer and stronger, not mired in pathetic and childish mud-slinging.

As America pivots to the Pacific to face the rise of China, it is inevitable that American resolve and resource in Europe will diminish. But with a revanchist Russia on its eastern flank and great political instability on the other side of the Mediterranean, with all that implies for mass immigration and terrorism, the world is still a dangerous place for Europe. Doubly dangerous as America’s attention and priorities move to the other side of the world.

The only possible force that can fill the gap left by a gradually departing America is a joint Anglo-French force. Both are formidable military powers of roughly the same size. Both are nuclear powers. Both are members of the UN Security Council. Both have overseas territories and assets. Above all, unlike the rest of Europe (especially the Germans), both are prepared to use force when it is in their national interest to do so.

The absurd war of words flowing back and forth across the Channel obscures how much co-operation there is already between the two nations. Remarkably, neither side ever talks about it.

For example, it is not generally known that the deputy commander of Britain’s First Infantry Division is a French brigadier- general. Or that the deputy commander of the French equivalent force is a British officer. There is already in existence — and fully operational for a year now — a joint Franco-British rapid reaction force capable of deploying 10,000 personnel by land, sea and air into combat zones.

British forces have been helping the French with heavy-lift capability in Africa, with our Chinook helicopters taking French soldiers to the front line in the Sahel.

We work together on nuclear warheads. We co-operate closely in the Pacific. We are building new air-launched missiles together in a joint venture between BAe and Airbus.

Relations between our MI6 and DGSE, France’s equivalent foreign intelligence service, have never been closer as we fight the common terrorist threat together. We have much to gain from each other.

France has nothing like the capabilities of our GCHQ, with its global intelligence gathering. So intelligence sharing is important to Paris. But France has the ability to deploy crack special forces anywhere there’s a terrorist attack in mainland France within 20 minutes. London should be learning from that.

It is important to realise that France has no similar extensive ties with any other nation. The much-talked about Franco-German military co-operation dissolves on touch. The French don’t rate German military resources or the Germans’ will to deploy them.

We have the closest of ties with America but, after that, France is by far our most important military partner.

So there is already much to build on. And much more to do. Given the mud-slinging for most of this year, it might seem folly to place any faith in far greater Anglo-French co-operation. But I believe the geopolitical logic is inescapable and as this decade proceeds, events will make it inevitable.

Any extension of such links may have to wait on Macron’s departure or a British prime minister with a firmer grasp of foreign policy imperatives than Johnson.

Maybe Macron will mature in a second term (which he’s likely to win) as French presidents are not permitted to serve more than two consecutive terms and, without the need to campaign for re-election, he could afford to drop the populist posturing.

Maybe Johnson will realise that a close alliance with France is an essential part of any Global Britain strategy.

Before the 2020s are out, I firmly believe events and common interests will drive us both to a new entente cordiale. If not, we will both be diminished without it.

Why I found flying to Britain too much faff 

I was supposed to be in London this week for business and some pre-Christmas fun

I was supposed to be in London this week for business and some pre-Christmas fun

I was supposed to be in London this week for business and some pre-Christmas fun. But I cancelled, not out of fear of the new Covid variant taking root, but because travelling across borders is now such a rigmarole that it’s best avoided unless essential.

Last week I couldn’t avoid it, which meant turning up at the airport in France with a file of paperwork: not just a passport but proof of Covid vaccination, proof of a recent Covid test, proof that another test had been booked on arrival, and a signed ‘attestation’, or declaration, in which I made various promises I didn’t fully understand.

Only then do they issue you with a boarding card (which you can no longer generate online before going to the airport — those were the days!).

I decided it was all too much of a faff and resolved to stay put. Since then so many others who were heading to the UK have told me they plumped to do the same.

All the rules and paperwork have only a marginal effect on controlling the pandemic. But they certainly deprive the British economy of some much-needed spending power.


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