Emmanuel Macron thinks he’s a big man. ‘BoJo talks to me at full speed, everything is going fine, we have discussions like big people,’ he said in comments reported by the French satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaîné.
‘And then he gives us a hard time before or afterwards in an inelegant way. It’s always the same circus.’
Having complained about the inelegant nature of the Prime Minister’s diplomacy, Macron added: ‘It is sad to see a major country with which we could do huge numbers of things being led by a clown.’
If this rabble-rousing was merely an attempt to court popularity in the midst of France’s increasingly toxic election campaign, it could be dismissed with an Anglo-Saxon shrug.
But Macron’s ongoing fit of presidential pique is having real-world consequences. Last week, a meeting between UK and French Ministers to tackle the migrant crisis was cancelled.
And according to UK officials, French obstinacy is likely to preclude any significant action, at least in the short term.
One said: ‘When we concluded the Brexit negotiations, the EU said to us, ‘It’s OK, you can secure bilaterals on migration.’ But now France are saying, ‘Oh, no, we can’t make a bilateral agreement. This has to be dealt with at commission level.’
‘There’s scope for a deal, but now there’s not much chance of anything happening until France takes over the EU presidency at the start of next month.’
By which time hundreds more migrants will have risked their lives in the icy waters of the Channel. ‘It’s not our fault,’ respond the EU panjandrums.
‘If it wasn’t for Brexit we could have sorted all this out.’ They then point to Britain’s withdrawal from the Dublin Regulation, the mechanism by which EU states theoretically manage the internal distribution of refugees.
It’s a fiction. In 2019, the last year of the UK’s participation in the scheme, the British Government received 2,236 requests from EU member states to accept transfers of individuals into the UK. Of these, 714 transfers actually took place – 32 per cent of cases.
In contrast, the UK’s request to transfer out 3,259 individuals to the EU resulted in just 263 removals, barely eight per cent of the cases. In that same year, an estimated 1,900 migrants arrived in the UK by small boat. The number returned to France via the Dublin protocol was 50.
The truth is the UK and France could conclude an agreement this evening to prevent further loss of life. That they won’t is nothing to do with Brexit, and everything to do with Emmanuel Macron and the EU’s desire to weaponise Brexit, and be seen to be teaching the British people a damn good lesson for having the temerity to vote for it.
In October, there was uproar after a leaked letter from French Prime Minister Jean Castex to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated: ‘It is important to make it clear to European public opinion that respect for commitment is non-negotiable and that leaving the Union does more harm than staying there.’
Castex’s defenders claimed his words had been mistranslated. They weren’t. The EU needs Brexit to be a failure. Or at least for it to be seen to be a failure. And if that requires someone jamming a rusty French spanner in the works, so be it. We have seen it over the past couple of weeks with the Channel migrant crisis. We saw it over vaccines.
Actually, we saw it twice over vaccines. First when Ursula von der Leyen tried to raise doubts about the safety of the UK vaccine rollout. Then when the EU announced it was triggering Article 16, and blocking the distribution of vaccines to Northern Ireland.
And now we’re about to see it again. Last week, I spoke to a Minister close to the current negotiations over the Northern Ireland protocol. They were cautiously optimistic about making progress with the DUP.
‘It’s going to be hard, but we think there is room for a compromise to be found,’ I was told. But when I asked about the stance of the EU, the optimism faded.
‘They genuinely just don’t understand. You saw it with Article 16 and the vaccine. They haven’t got any appreciation of the nature of the politics of Northern Ireland.’
We don’t need any lectures on populism from the man currently rolling around in the gutter with Marine Le Pen. We don’t need any lectures on statecraft from the man who petulantly recalled the ambassador to his longest-standing ally. And we certainly don’t need any lectures on how to be a mature statesman from the man who would see women and children drown rather than swallow his wounded Gallic pride
Maybe that’s because they don’t want to understand. In October, it was announced that EU negotiator Maros Sefcovic had offered to end 80 per cent of checks on food entering Northern Ireland from the British mainland. This was promptly hailed as a constructive and magnanimous move on the part of the European Union.