“France and Britain are more similar than perhaps any other two countries on Earth,” says Tom McTague in The Atlantic. Their populations, wealth, imperial pasts and global reach all match up. They share a “sense of exceptionalism” and angst about the growing power of others. Not that there aren’t differences: while Britain sees itself as bound up with America, France feels so separate from the US that in the French espionage drama The Bureau, an agent working for the CIA is described as “defecting to the West”. Boris Johnson even told me about a French Anglophile who years ago advised him that Britain was unsuited to the EU and needed to leave.
But, as one joke has it, Britain partly left the EU “to be more French” – at least, to discover a streak of Gaullist independence and “unapologetic defence of national interest”. Believing that Paris had sown up the EU as a tool of its own power, Johnson bet Britain’s future on the high seas. As the row over the Aukus treaty showed, each country projects its anxieties about its place in the world on to the other. In truth, Britain is as much a “junior partner” of America as France is of Germany. Paris and London have adopted different global strategies, but both amount to an uncertain “attempt to remain great”.