politics

Inside the decline of Anglo-French relations that ended Priti Patel visit


B

oris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron used to be on such good terms that they would exchange friendly messages on WhatsApp away from the prying eyes of troublesome aides.

Not any more. On Friday, the French President could hardly conceal his rage at the UK Prime Minister’s decision to use social media to set out a five point plan for resolving the Channel migrants crisis.

In a major souring of relations, Paris told Home Secretary Priti Patel she would no longer be welcome at a meeting of European nations to discuss the migrants crisis in Calais on Sunday.

By breakfast on Friday however, the two sides were once again at loggerheads, with France furious at Mr Johnson’s decision to make his letter to the French President public on Twitter.

“I am surprised by these methods that are not serious,” Mr Macron said. “You don’t communicate from one leader to another on subjects like this by tweet or letters made public. Really. Come on.”

The row marks a new low for a partnership which has been deteriorating in recent months over Brexit, fishing rights and the AUKUS defence agreement, which sidelined France in a deal to make new submarines for Australia’s Navy.

The UK’s former ambassador to France and National Security Adviser, Lord Ricketts noted on Twitter that French anger was “understandable”.

But he added: “In my view they were wrong to cancel the invitation to Patel. The priority must be finding practical solutions to stop this murderous trafficking in human lives. The Sunday meeting of European Ministers will be less useful without the Brits.”

Beneath the surface of every row between London and Paris lies the looming French Presidential election in April and the daily realities of Brexit.

Britain suspects Mr Macron’s tougher line on post Brexit fishing rights – with some trawlers beginning another blockade of the Channel on Friday over a lack of licences to fish in UK waters – is all part of a bid to bash the Brits and improve his chances of re-election. The French meanwhile accuse Britain of failing to accept the terms of the Brexit deal they signed up to, including the friction caused to trade in Northern Ireland.

And yet, despite the tensions, there remain plenty of reasons why the UK and France might quickly make up.

Both are nuclear-armed permanent members of the UN Security Council and boast the most capable armed forces in western Europe. Even against the backdrop of these rows, there is talk of closer military co-operation.

“I very much hope we will find a route to ensure this can be properly discussed,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. “It can’t be resolved unless we are talking.”



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