Great Britain

Johnson bid to mend Franco-British relations met with cool response

Boris Johnson has told Emmanuel Macron he wants to “re-establish cooperation” in the wake of the Aukus defence pact row, during a frosty-sounding call between the leaders of Britain and France.

A description of the conversation from Macron’s office said the prime minister sought the call on Friday, and expressed the hope that the countries could resume cooperation “in line with our values and our common interests”.

In response, the French president told Johnson “he is awaiting his proposals” on how to do this, the brief statement from the Élysée said.

A more lengthy Downing Street readout of the call omitted this last detail, instead saying the pair “reaffirmed the importance of the UK-France relationship and agreed to continue working closely together around the world on our shared agenda, through Nato and bilaterally”.

It added: “The leaders noted in particular the strategic significance of our longstanding cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and in Africa, including through the joint mission in Mali.”

The prime minister on Thursday urged the French to “prenez un grip about this and donnez-moi un break” – to “get a grip” and “give me a break” – over the fallout from the Aukus deal.

Relations between the two countries were already facing strain over the repercussions of Brexit and the UK’s desire for France to limit the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Channel.

Tensions rose last week after the UK’s decision to join the US and Australia in the Aukus pact, leading Canberra to cancel a £48bn submarine contract with France and replace it with nuclear technology from the UK and US, an arrangement negotiated without any prior French knowledge.

France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia for consultations about what was termed the “exceptional seriousness” of Canberra’s decision to cancel the order. While the French ambassador in London remained in place, this was only because France considered the UK a “junior partner” in the affair, the French Europe minister, Clément Beaune, said.

During a visit to Washington this week, Johnson further deepened the row by claiming the UK, US and Australia had been “a bit taken aback by the strength of the French reaction” over Aukus.

The Downing Street statement said Johnson and Macron agreed to “intensify cooperation” on Channel crossings, the Northern Ireland protocol and post-Brexit fishing licences. The former two issues are notably bigger domestic political issues in the UK than in France.

It added: “The prime minister also looked forward to welcoming President Macron to Glasgow in November for Cop26, and they discussed the importance of increased international action ahead of the summit on climate finance and net zero commitments.”

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