Boris Johnson Orders a Reset in Anglo-French Relations

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered his colleagues not to retaliate against what London sees as a recent provocation from Paris in a bid to de-escalate tensions with French president Emmanuel Macron.
It seems that Johnson is convinced that Macron will win a second term and remain the French president for another 5 years, and that he wants to improve Anglo-French relations in preparation for this, perhaps with a treaty.
During a bitter row about how to respond to the deaths of 27 migrants that died in the English Channel in November, Macron reportedly labelled Boris Johnson a “clown”, leading some diplomats to wonder whether any kind of relationship will be possible.
Paris has been antagonised by Johnson on a number of occasions, with issues ranging from migrants, to Brexit and even to a new security partnership between Australia, the US and the UK.
Despite this ongoing war of words, an ally of Johnson said, “There have been a whole series of comments that we have just let go. There has been a lot of sucking of teeth.”
When a French satirical newspaper outlined Macrons alleged comments about Johnson (that he was behaving “like an idiot” and that it was sad that Britain was being “led by a clown”), Number 10 chose not to retaliate.
There are some diplomats that believe it is too little, too late and that Macron’s attacks are not simply down to electioneering. They believe that it is too late to smooth tensions, and that Macron is genuinely fed up with the UK prime minister who he believes is unreliable and trivial.
The idea of a treaty has been suggested as a way to fix relations once the elections are over, with British Officials suggesting the treaty may focus on defence and security cooperation, as well as science, technology and culture.
Lord Ricketts, a former British ambassador to France, said: “There’s such a big gap between the idea of a new treaty and the way the two governments are treating each other, it can’t happen at the moment.”
In Paris, there is a general suspicion that this is only an attempt by Johnson to appear reasonably in front of the public whilst simultaneously persisting with difficult behaviour behind closed doors.
For Macron’s team it will be much more important to see whether the UK will be a reliable partner after Brexit, but with Macron’s deep distrust of Johnson, diplomats are seriously questioning whether any entente cordiale can be reached.

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.