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Macron’s petulance helps no one

Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow. Christopher Furlong/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

As someone who has spent his life writing about France, has French family and could reasonably be described as a francophile, I’m baffled by the “stream of bile aimed at Britain” that now issues daily from the French political elite, says Robert Tombs in The Sunday Telegraph. Okay, Brexit scuppered France’s “greatest project” – European integration. And after casting off the EU’s “cumbersome” medical regulations, the UK developed a vaccine at lightning speed. Then France was left out in the cold by the Aukus military pact between the US, the UK and Australia. So one can see why the French are “annoyed” and may even “intensely dislike” some of their British counterparts.

But this doesn’t excuse the “violent and provocative” language that has become the norm in French pronouncements on the UK – the sort of thing you might expect from a “tinpot dictatorship”, not a “mature democracy and ally”. To take just one example, President Macron last week called Boris Johnson a “clown” and a “gougnafier” (meaning “good for nothing”). The French government is “trashing” the Franco-British relationship, hoping to damage Johnson so much that he’ll be replaced by someone willing to negotiate with Paris and Brussels. It’s applying General de Gaulle’s formula for handling the British: “Bang the table and they back down.” Unless, of course, the motive is nothing more than “Macron’s petulant vanity”. 

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