As Russia launches accelerated salvoes on neighboring Ukraine, even threatening nuclear Armageddon, it seems the United Kingdom and France – both members of NATO – have still not managed to put things right.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who is in the midst of a bitter intra-party battle against Rishi Sunak for the leadership of the ruling Conservative Party, was recently asked if French President Emmanuel Macron is “friend or foe?” His answer, offered to the applause of his clearly partisan audience, was simple and direct. “The jury is out.” Then she continued, in a hardly more conciliatory way: “But if I become Prime Minister, I will judge him by deeds and not by words.
These remarks came to Macron as he himself made a delicate repair visit to Algeria, the former French colony
across the Mediterranean. The relationship between France
and Algeria has been particularly thorny since Macron’s comments last year accusing the Algerian government of “exploiting the memory” of the colonial past and “rewriting history” on the basis of “hate from France”. For his own efforts, Macron brought along a delegation of 90 people, including his ministers of finance, interior, defense and foreign affairs.
So Macron didn’t seem to have much patience for the other swirling rhetorical storm that Truss seemed to conjure up. If the two countries “cannot say whether they are friends or foes – and that is not a neutral term – then we are heading for serious trouble”, the French president
said. “The British people, the United Kingdom, are a friendly, strong and allied nation, whoever their leaders are, and sometimes despite their leaders or the little mistakes they may make in demagogy,” he said. to journalists.
Of course, Johnson could hardly pass up a good opportunity to fit into the storm, with or without a teapot. In an apparent effort to ease tensions, he said Macron was “a big fan of our country”, or to make sure he was not misunderstood across the Channel, “a very good ‘buddy’ of our country”. Elaborating, he saw relations between the UK and France “of enormous importance… They have been very good for a long time, since the Napoleonic era basically, and I think we should celebrate that”.
This is a particularly inauspicious time for such tension. build between two anchor nations of the NATO alliance — especially when they’re on the same side of the biggest war in Europe since World War II. As both countries, along with the rest of the continent, the United States and a host of other democratic-leaning nations, grapple with Russia and its growing threats, perhaps the United Kingdom and France should find a way to get along – at least with a veneer of friendliness.
Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former adviser, dubbed Truss, not without considerable evidence, “the human hand grenade”. The problem is that, in recent times, twining grenades have been thrown back and forth over a body of water which the British persist in calling ‘La Manche’ and the French simply ‘La Manche’ – literally translated as ‘La Manche’. or, if pressed, “The Channel.”
This week, French members of the European Parliament called on the European Commission to take legal action against Britain for “fouling” the English Channel and adjacent North Sea with sewage. It stemmed from pollution warnings that British authorities themselves had issued for dozens of beaches in England and Wales, as water companies began discharging sewage after a series of heavy rains.
“We do not support the environment, the economic activities of our trawlers and the health of citizens being seriously threatened by the repeated negligence of the United Kingdom in the management of waste water”, fulminates Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, one of the MEPs signatories to a letter calling for legal action. “The English Channel and the North Sea are not dumping grounds.” Steve Double, Britain’s water minister, called the French comments “unnecessary and misinformed”.
The Times, in its initial report on the matter, did not assign blame in this matter to Brexit. (The UK’s exit deal could be invoked if it were found to clog those waters.) ‘UK beaches were misclassified even before it left the EU,’ the correspondent admitted of the newspaper in Paris, Adam Sage.
There is, of course, a long history between these two countries that share such a strategic waterway – dating back to when in 1066 William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, crossed the English Channel, defeated the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings and claims the throne of England.
Since 1805, the two countries have more or less managed to keep things in balance – at least until the UK opted for Brexit, withdrawing from the European Union – which the French had helped build and of which Macron has been president by rotation this year. What followed was a succession of setbacks. Things nearly broke four years ago when fishing trawlers from both countries claimed valuable scallop fishing waters.
Now the crucial question is whether things can be restored to pre-Brexit levels – and whether Truss even wants that to happen. It should, in the interest of the United Kingdom, of the Atlantic Alliance and certainly of Ukraine’s war against Russia. There is no time more vital than now for a truly united front.