Liz Truss needs to be wary of Emmanuel Macron despite new entente cordiale

Truss - Alastair Grant/AP
Truss - Alastair Grant/AP

A long overdue thaw in relations between Paris and London has been achieved after Liz Truss and Emmanuel Macron kissed and made up at a European summit.

The Prime Minister called the French President "a friend" after their meeting on the margins of the European Political Community of EU and non-EU nations in Prague.

It was a telling choice of words. In August, Ms Truss ruffled French feathers by declaring the "jury’s out" on whether Mr Macron was a friend or foe to Britain.

Mr Macron was not impressed, and in response reportedly ditched a new deal with the UK to curb cross-channel migration in small boats.

That agreement, involving a UK payment of around £50 million to the French for boosted joint patrols and the deployment of immigration officers in France, is now back on the cards.

Europe - Sean Gallup/Getty
Europe - Sean Gallup/Getty

An "ambitious" package of measures is arranged for the autumn, while the leaders also agreed to work closely together on Ukraine and the energy crisis.

They also confirmed plans for an Anglo-French summit next year, which will be the first since 2018 and Brexit, in the clearest sign yet that both Paris and London want to repair damaged relations.

Since the Brexit referendum, the UK and France have locked horns on coronavirus vaccines, the Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) submarine row, the Northern Ireland Protocol and post Brexit fishing rights.

Things got so bad that the Royal Navy and a French naval vessel eyed each other off the coast of Jersey, where a flotilla of fishermen had blockaded the main port.

The contrast in Prague could not have been starker. While Ms Truss praised Mr Macron, he gushed over her decision to attend the summit.

"I do hope this is a new phase of our common relations. Our willingness is clearly to work together for the unity of our continent," he said, adding: "It is a very good choice she made."

Ms Truss was criticised for agreeing to attend the European Political Community, the brainchild of the French president, in case it became a shadow EU.

The Prime Minister insisted the summit had to bring concrete deliverables, which she achieved on migration and boosting energy links with Europe.

It is also clearly desirable that Europe’s two major military powers are not squabbling about Brexit issues over sausages and fish,  when they should be presenting a united front against Vladimir Putin.

The French president’s heartfelt and moving tributes to Queen Elizabeth undoubtedly helped, but this new entente cordiale also reflects the much improved atmosphere around the Northern Ireland Protocol dispute.

Prague - Alistair Grant /PA
Prague - Alistair Grant /PA

There is increasing optimism in Dublin and Brussels that a deal could be reached on the Irish Sea border after Britain toned down its threats to tear up the treaty.

Mr Macron relished his role as the EU’s bad cop in the Brexit negotiations and consistently pushed for the toughest possible line from Brussels.

The president is so pro-EU he played the bloc’s anthem after each of his election victories.

His uncompromising stance was also motivated by the need to defeat Marine Le Pen in this year’s election, which he accomplished in part by accusing her of plotting a Frexit by stealth.

He may no longer have elections to worry about and the mood music around the Protocol talks may be good - but the French president will undoubtedly be one of the most strident voices in Europe in arguing for retaliation if negotiations fail and the UK uses legislation to unilaterally tear up the Protocol.

Prague - Filip Singer/Shutterstock
Prague - Filip Singer/Shutterstock

Mr Macron infamously dubbed Boris Johnson a "clown" after the then prime minister published a letter to the president online in November.

The letter urged France to take back migrants crossing the Channel illegally, but Mr Macron said publishing it was not a "serious" way to conduct negotiations.

The migration deal was put on ice before negotiations eventually resumed, only for Mr Macron to shelve it again after Ms Truss suggested he might be a foe.

Although the early signs of a new entente cordiale are good, Ms Truss will have to be wary.

Mr Macron has put a deal on Channel migration on the table for now; but, as he has done before, he can just as easily take it off again.