The British embassy in Paris held a lavish James Bond evening this week, guests in black ties and evening gowns drinking shaken, not shaken Bollinger and Martinis, playing blackjack and admiring the gleaming Aston Martin DB5 on the patio.
As the projections of British soft power progress, it was as powerful as anyone could wish for. Except, as one seasoned observer put it: “There don’t seem to be many French politicians.” Another wondered, “Weren’t they invited or didn’t they come?”
The embassy, of course, does not discuss guest lists. But it is a sign of how bad Anglo-French relations have become – and according to former ambassadors and analysts alike, they have rarely been worse – that the question was raised.
“They are as bad as I can remember,” said Peter Ricketts, Britain’s ambassador to France from 2012 to 2016. “My feeling is that the French have totally lost confidence in the UK as an ally and in the British government as something. “. depend on.”
For Sylvie Bermann, French ambassador to Great Britain from 2014 to 2017, Franco-British relations “have never been so tense, so hostile. In Paris there is a real lack of confidence, the feeling that Great Britain no longer respects the agreements it signs.
The tensions that built up over five years of hot-tempered Brexit negotiations have been exacerbated by a series of increasingly heated disagreements across the Channel, some related to the fallout from the UK’s exit from the EU, but others no.
Britain’s decision to impose stricter Covid travel restrictions on France than other EU countries this summer, for example, was deeply resented in Paris, where it was seen as unjustified discrimination and assumed to be politically motivated.
Tempers have also raged over the long-standing problem of migrant crossings on small boats from France to the UK, with Home Secretary Priti Patel’s plan to return the boats and withhold cash for French coastal patrols fired by his Paris counterpart Gérard Darmanin, as “Blackmail” and “postures”.
The Indo-Pacific security partnership, Aukus, announced last month by the US, Australia and the UK, cost France a multi-million dollar submarine deal with Australia and sparked cold fury in Paris, though Britain is seen. as a junior partner.
The UK was the “fifth wheel” of the deal, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, noting that France had not called its ambassador in London, as it did with its envoys to Washington and Canberra, because now he was very used to it. to the “constant opportunism” of Great Britain.
Boris Johnson, while later professing Britain’s “indestructible” affection for France, scoffed at French anger in Franglais, saying that Paris should “take a grip and donnez-moi a break.” That led Emmanuel Macron to respond to a call to “reestablish cooperation” with a fresco: “The president awaits your proposals.”
But the deeper reason for the breakdown remains Brexit and its aftermath, with the French enraged by what they see as London’s refusal to implement, and the desire to re-litigate, key parts of the deal, with the British seeing that Paris is hell-bent on punishing the UK. for having had the temerity to leave the EU.
Fed up with the UK “failing to implement its agreements” and “badmouthing” France and the EU, Clément Beaune, France’s Europe minister, warned this week of retaliatory measures, including hitting the country’s power supply. Great Britain and Jersey, due to the fact that Great Britain does not provide enough fishing licenses. to the French fishermen.
Paris is equally irritated by David Frost’s determination to rewrite the Northern Ireland protocol, which Britain negotiated and signed to avoid a land border on the island of Ireland, but which imposes border controls in the Irish Sea.
French media analysts, diplomats and commentators see little hope for a short-term improvement in cross-channel relations as long as two leaders with such radically different agendas – and their own overriding political imperatives – remain at No. 10 and the Elysee.
“Johnson’s strategy is based on justifying Britain’s divorce from the EU and emphasizing its supposed benefits, while the deeply pro-European Macron criticizes the ‘lie’ on which Brexit was built and of which Johnson was the architect. key, “he said. The world.
“In that sense, each is the embodiment of what the other most rejects,” said Elvire Fabry, principal investigator at the Jacques Delors Institute in Paris. “That locks the two countries into the familiar Brexit narrative, unable to look to the future and see where cooperation could and should be possible.”
Compounding these strategic differences is the internal political advantage obtained by attacking the neighbor. From the French perspective, attacking France allows Johnson (whom Paris considers deeply unserious) to distract himself, for example, from Britain’s recent supply chain crisis, which, in the wake of Brexit, Paris is pleased to highlight. .
From the British point of view, the fact that Macron, long seen in London as the ‘bad cop’ of the Brexit negotiations, the EU leader who always took the hardest line, is facing a difficult campaign Presidential reelection next year means he has done it too. all to win by playing for a national audience.
“As the UK cannot admit that the difficulties it faces are the logical consequences of Brexit and the minimum free trade agreement it demanded,” said Gérard Araud, former French ambassador to Washington, “will make the EU a scapegoat, and France in particular.” In the short term, “we are doomed to a disastrous relationship.”
Blaming the French “has always worked very well politically in the UK,” Bermann agreed. “You just have to look at the tabloid covers.” But while it was “normal to experience ups and downs in the relationship,” he said, the current level of acrimony seemed almost unprecedented.
Ricketts, who as chairman of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee under Tony Blair experienced first-hand the bitterest Franco-British dispute over the US-led invasion of Iraq, said it was “a very sharp, but short-lived difference. “.
It was followed, he said, by “really high points” in inter-channel relations, such as the 2010 Lancaster House accords on bilateral defense cooperation. “This feels deeper, it is much more than a dispute,” he said. “It will take time and a lot of effort to repair it.”
Fabry also said that things “had gone beyond the hassle. I try not to criticize Brexit, but there seems to be such a clear ripple effect: hard Brexit, end of free movement, supply chain problems. As long as that persists, France becomes an obvious target. I’m not very optimistic.
Georgina Wright, head of the Institut Montaigne’s Europe program, said past bilateral defense cooperation, especially in the Balkans, Sahel and the Middle East, had been close, but “the lack of trust is also slowly being felt in defense circles. ”.
Both sides would have to move, he said. “The opinion in London is that France is still trying to punish the UK for Brexit, and the bilateral relationship is stalled due to French threats. In Paris, the opinion is that Great Britain cannot be trusted. I don’t see things changing in France before the next presidential election, and in the UK it could take longer. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism