It is impossible to seriously work with the government of Boris Johnson

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Britain and France have a long and intertwined history, between great friendship and solidarity, war and rivalry. This manifested itself very recently following terrorist attacks in our respective countries. It is a relationship that can still be called “gentle enemies”, as Philip Sidney puts it in a sonnet in 1591.

We are twin countries, with more or less the same population, similar economies and the same status on the world stage, as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and nuclear countries with a projection capacity. military. As members of the same international organizations, we have often held the same positions, and we have coordinated closely. This respect and spirit of cooperation has been particularly strong among diplomats from our two nations.

All the prejudices and mockery have remained mostly friendly, or have been delivered with a touch of humor – as in 2012, when the two Boris Johnson and David Cameron annoyed Francois Hollande’s government by saying that they would “roll out the red carpet” for heavily taxed French businessmen in France. The French Minister of Labor at the time, Michel Sapin, replied: “Frankly, I do not understand how we can roll out a red carpet across the Channel. It could get quite wet.

Sadly, I think Brexit changed all that – and the rivalries that were once largely friendly have turned sour and hostile.

France has been accused on several occasions of wanting to punish the UK for Brexit. The French position is simply that the decision to leave the European Union made the UK a “third country” – not a punishment but a defined term in EU treaties, with many legal and regulatory consequences. The French government and public opinion are angered by what appears to be Johnson’s determination to have his cake and eat it.

The implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol is at the heart of the tension. Becoming a third country requires land or sea borders: it is about protecting the European internal market. The French are perhaps more vocal on this subject, but their position is shared by the institutions of the EU and all its members – and even by the Americans. We do not understand that an agreement negotiated, signed and proclaimed fantastic is not then respected by the very people who are at the heart of it. This created a real loss of confidence in the UK government.

The fishing dispute is also seen in Paris as stemming from a British breach of an agreement with the EU – this has allowed European fishermen to continue operating in British waters, provided they do so already before 2016. It is considered an act of hostility towards France, as other countries have succeeded in obtaining licenses, while dozens of French boats have had their requests rejected. These are usually small boats without GPS that have spent their entire lives fishing in these waters, and their livelihoods are at stake. This explains their desperation and anger – and some harsh actions.

The refugee issue is the most difficult. Mary Tudor once said that “you will find Calais lying in my heart”, and it remains a place of contention between France and Great Britain. Some Britons say France should take back “its migrants” and accuse French police of incompetence, suggesting that Britain withdraw its financial contributions. This caused outrage in France: these payments were not made out of generosity, but because French police are effectively guarding the border for the British.

The hostility has grown so severe that some presidential candidates next year have suggested that the Le Touquet border control treaty should be scrapped, saying that if the UK is serious about ‘taking back control’ of its boundaries, it can do so on its own soil. France has more than twice as many asylum seekers as the United Kingdom. Those who arrive in Calais are often desperate to go to Britain for several reasons: because they speak English and can find work more easily, because they have family there, and because of the lack of safe legal routes to cross. Whatever new and enhanced security measures are put in place in the future, asylum seekers will continue to flow in, and it is impossible to control 150 km of coastline once the tunnel and port are sealed.

Paris finds it impossible to seriously work with the Johnson government. Even the way the refugee issue was approached annoyed them: Johnson’s letter to Emmanuel Macron was tweeted to the world in a very Trumpian way, prompting the comment: “I’m surprised when the methods aren’t serious. We do not communicate on these issues, from one leader to another, via tweets or a letter made public. We are not whistleblowers. Go on then. “For his part, the French Minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin, criticized the” double talk “of the British: constructive in bilateral talks behind closed doors, then, a day later, the reverse publicly, for reasons domestic policy.

The two leaders of our nations have very different visions and personalities. At other times they might have gotten along, and the very serious, very European French President might even have been amused by a man who once said he would not sacrifice a good joke for the truth. But for now, the stakes are too high. The British government seems obsessed with its bigger and closest neighbor: France is an easy scapegoat in difficult times. Unfortunately, it will take some time before a new cordial agreement is formed.


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