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Migrant crisis

A friendship that soured

Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace in 2019. Chesnot/Getty Images

Working for Boris Johnson years ago, I realised the “ultimate sin” was to be too serious, says Clare Foges in The Times. Talk too gravely about anything and he would tell jokes to dispel the “ghastly cloud”. This aversion to earnestness helps explains his bad break-up with Emmanuel Macron. The French president’s thoughts run deeper than the Mariana Trench, while Johnson’s convictions “run about as deep as a pavement puddle”.

This clash of styles became most apparent after the signing of the Aukus deal, which led to Australia cancelling a big submarine order with France. Whereas President Biden wisely sought to rebuild diplomatic bridges with Macron, Johnson “dusted off his Del Boy Franglais” and told the French to “donnez-moi un break”. He knows this stuff plays well at home. But after six years of it – dating back to the Brexit campaign – Macron has clearly had enough. Addressing the migrant crisis last week, he pointedly declared: “Ministers will work seriously to solve a serious issue with serious people.”

It’s a shame, says Gordon Rayner in The Daily Telegraph, because Johnson and Macron had a “genuine rapport at the start of their relationship”. The two leaders regularly exchanged WhatsApp messages, “sharing private jokes and infuriating officials who wanted all communication done through proper channels”. And the French magazine Le Canard Enchaîné has reported that Johnson has privately apologised to his counterpart for playing to the (British) crowd with his “anti-French rhetoric”. But it seems Macron has “lost patience”.

There are three things Johnson could do to patch up relations, says Robert Shrimsley in the FT. The first is to end the threats to suspend the Northern Ireland protocol, which keeps the country in the EU’s single market – it will disappoint hardline Unionists, “but they are going to be disappointed sooner or later”. The second is to “listen to the mandarins” and take a less bombastic approach to diplomacy. Britain needs to stop viewing European relations as “an endless zero-sum game of continuing Brexit negotiations”. The third is to at least “entertain” the French suggestion of UK asylum processing centres in France. Johnson’s “taste for brinkmanship”, however, means a pragmatic “reset” may be too much to ask for.

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