Truss played on strained cross-channel relations during the Conservative Party leadership election – Copyright AFP/File William WEST
Experts say there is little chance of the UK resetting relations with France under new Prime Minister Liz Truss as neighbors’ geographic proximity and sometimes divergent interests make post-Brexit relations strained.
Truss played on tensions between the English Channel during the Conservative Party leadership election, saying “juries disagree” when asked if French President Emmanuel Macron was “friend or foe.”
It was the latest in a string of taunts against Paris by British leaders that at times infuriated the French.
“The UK is a friendly, strong and allied nation, regardless of its leaders, and sometimes in spite of its leaders,” Macron later replied.
“Trusse is telling her supporters that she will be very tough on Europe and especially tough on Macron because it fits well with the conservative base,” Peter Ricketts, a former British ambassador to Paris, told AFP.
Britain’s historical rival, France, led since 2017 by passionate EU supporter Macron, has become the preferred scapegoat for post-Brexit tensions.
– Close Enemies –
“Because of the proximity and because of the huge movement of people and cargo… Brexit annoyance and annoyance tends to happen mainly between the UK and France,” Ricketts said.
About 55 per cent of trucks – about a million vehicles – left the UK in 2020 via ferry or rail crossings between Dover and Calais, according to the UK government.
Meanwhile, the French government reported 12 million British visitors in 2019 – the last year before the coronavirus crisis – and 3.6 million French from the UK.
Since 2020, coronavirus lockdowns and changes to Brexit rules have caused traffic jams at the border that Eurosceptic British politicians and tabloids often blame on French intransigence.
London and Paris also fell out in 2021 over AstraZeneca’s lack of a Covid-19 vaccine.
“We can be sure of continued high levels of stress and friction at the border,” Ricketts said, highlighting the new EU pre-registration system known as ETIAS starting next year.
In fact, “we could be in a full-fledged trade war with the European Union in eight months” if Truss backs out of the Irish border checks part of the Brexit deal, said Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College London. .
But Menon argued that an escalation was unlikely given the danger that it could exacerbate the cost-of-living crisis.
Less important to the economy have been raucous disputes over issues such as fishing licenses for French boats around the Channel Islands (now mostly settled) and migrants trying to cross to the UK by boat.
London has repeatedly threatened to withdraw tens of millions of euros paid to support the French coastal police.
More than 27,000 people tried to cross the English Channel in 2022, almost the same as in all of 2021.
– “Global Britain” –
British and French interests may be closely linked, such as in trade and security.
Both governments “do not always come up with the same decisions … but they have a lot of similar instincts,” said Georgina Wright, director of the Europe program at French think tank Institut Montaigne.
Since 2010, they have been bound by agreements providing for a common expeditionary force, missile development and even nuclear testing.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, herself a former ambassador to London, nevertheless told RTL radio on Monday that “because of the UK’s attitude towards the European question, (relationships) are not in line with the role that our two countries should play” globally. . scene.
At the moment, British leaders are following the slogan “Global Britain”.
“Close cooperation with the EU in foreign policy brings absolutely no political benefit,” Menon said.
The UK has sided with other European powers, including France, in an attempt to get the United States and Iran back on a deal to limit Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
But while both countries have responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with harsh sanctions, some in France complain that the UK is boasting about arms deliveries, and London does not trust Paris’ insistence on continuing talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And last year there was a bitter showdown with Paris over the Indo-Pacific when Britain forged an alliance dubbed AUKUS with the US and Australia, causing Sydney to cancel a lucrative order for French submarines.
“The AUKUS case is Global Britain applied to Asia… It makes sense,” said Jean-Pierre Molny of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS).
“But this logic is contrary to the interests of France and Europeans in general,” he added.
“I don’t think Liz Truss (becoming prime minister) will make much of a difference,” Molny predicted, adding, “In the short term, we have no hope (of better relations).”