Relations with Europe have hit a new low over the last couple of weeks. Ongoing wrangling over the Northern Ireland Protocol have been compounded by rowing with the French over fishing rights and the migrant crisis.
France’s Emmanuel Macron reportedly called Johnson a clown on a recent trip to Croatia, while Johnson has urged Macron to “prenez un grip” and “donnez moi un break”. Whether imagined or real, Macron claims Johnson has apologised to him in private, and asked for understanding that he must cater to his UK base.
“Very quickly, he (Johnson), realised that the situation was catastrophic for the British,” Le Canard Enchaîné reported Macron as saying. “There’s no petrol in the pumps, there’s a whole bunch of stuff missing. He positions himself as a victim, he makes France a scapegoat.”
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Macron is up to much the same game. No French president ever lost votes by preying on anti-English sentiment. On both sides of the Channel, statesmanship has fallen victim to petty, political campaigning.
At this stage, the standoff is more in the nature of rhetorical knockabout than a declaration of war.
Yet it scarcely needs pointing out that it was precisely to avoid this kind of hostility descending into outright conflict that the European project was conceived in the first place.
Downing Street is probably right in thinking that nothing much is going to change this side of the French presidential elections in April, at which point Macron will either be restored to the Élysée and won’t therefore be under the same pressure to keep pushing the Perfidious Albion button, or there will be someone else to deal with. Even so, I wouldn’t be so sure of a more reasonable attitude prevailing thereafter.
The absurd pastiche of a video used to launch Éric Zemmour’s presidential bid, with its references to the land of Napoleon and Joan of Arc alongside Brigitte Bardot and Charles De Gaulle, doesn’t exactly signal a pro-British mindset, however much Zemmour might approve of Brexit. French fisherman come first.