Boris Johnson orders de-escalation of tensions with France – .

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Boris Johnson orders de-escalation of tensions with France – .


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered his team to defuse tensions with French President Emmanuel Macron, telling his colleagues not to retaliate against what London sees as a recent provocation from Paris.

Johnson is convinced Macron will win a second term, according to the allies, and wants to pave the way for better relations after the presidential elections next April, possibly via a new Anglo-French treaty.

With Macron allegedly calling Johnson a ‘clown’ – amid a bitter row over how to respond to the deaths of 27 migrants who tried last month to reach the UK by crossing the Channel in a small boat – the idea of ​​any post-election “cordial agreement” seems far-fetched for some diplomats.

Johnson is seen by Macron as not being “serious” and the prime minister has upset Paris over a range of issues beyond migrants, including Brexit and a new security partnership between Australia, the United States. and the United Kingdom, which will allow Canberra to build a fleet of nuclear power plants. -motorized submarines.

Downing Street now wants to end the cross-Channel war of words. “There was a whole bunch of comments that we just let go,” a Johnson ally said. “There was a lot of tooth sucking. “

Number 10 did not respond to comments Macron reported to his colleagues, described by the French satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné, that Johnson was behaving “like an idiot” and that he was sad that Britain was ” led by a clown ”.

There was then only a modest call from Number 10 for people to choose their words’ carefully ‘after Macron said managing post-Brexit trade deals for Northern Ireland was about’ war and peace for Ireland ”.

Nor has there been a strong British response to claims by Clément Beaune, French Minister for Europe, last week that migrants were being lured into the UK by an economic model characterized by ‘near slavery. modern ”.

Some diplomats, however, believe Johnson left it too late to ease tensions and is mistaken that Macron’s attacks were due to the election campaign – they think the French president is simply fed up with a prime minister that he considers unreliable and insignificant.

While Macron’s comments made headlines in the UK, they generated little interest in France. Aside from a row over UK licensing of French fishermen operating in UK waters, French media is much more focused on Covid-19, immigration and relations with Germany.

Sir Peter Westmacott, former British Ambassador to Paris, said: “I don’t think the French are as obsessed with what is happening in Britain as we are with what is happening in France. I don’t think it wins Macron votes.

Downing Street insiders don’t buy this argument. Johnson and his team expect relations to remain rocky over the next few months but believe Macron’s expected re-election could offer the chance for a fresh start.

There have been signs in recent days of some cooling of tensions: a recognition that the two countries are doomed by geographic, economic and security considerations to work together.

The granting of 40 fishing licenses by Guernsey, a British crown dependency, to French boats was a sign that the dispute was beginning to subside, though not over.

France’s threat to carry out “tightened” controls on British goods crossing the Channel in retaliation for the dispute was a reminder of how quickly Paris could stifle British trade routes if it so wished.

Meanwhile, Jean Castex, the French Prime Minister, wrote to Johnson last week to suggest a “possible new framework for cooperation between the UK and the EU” to tackle the small-boat migration crisis in the Handle.

But the fact that it was Castex who contacted Johnson, rather than Macron, is an indication of the toxic state of relations between the two leaders.

Johnson’s allies have floated the idea that once the presidential elections are over, relations could be improved, possibly through a new treaty between the two sides.

British officials have said a treaty could focus on defense and security cooperation – building on a part of the well-functioning UK-France relationship – but also cover science, technology and Culture.

Defense options examined on the British side include joint aircraft carrier operations, nuclear cooperation and the possibility for Britain and France to work more closely in the Indo-Pacific with the “quad”: Australia, India , Japan and United States.

But Lord Peter Ricketts, another former British Ambassador to France, said: “There is such a big gap between the idea of ​​a new treaty and the way the two governments treat each other, it cannot happen for the moment.

In Paris, the Macron administration suspects that the idea of ​​a new treaty is another attempt by Johnson to appear reasonable in public while persisting with difficult behavior on the ground, according to French officials.

For Macron’s team, a much more important question is whether the UK can once again prove that it is the reliable partner France wants in the aftermath of Brexit.

Tensions over Johnson’s attempts to rewrite parts of his Brexit deal for Northern Ireland could resurface early next year if the PM seeks to put trade deals on hold for the region.

Diplomats wonder if – even if Macron is relocated to the Elysee Palace in April – a new cordial deal can be reached given the president’s deep mistrust of Johnson.

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