Instead of a extra formal mode of communication, UK prime minister Boris Johnson not too long ago determined to tweet a letter he had written to French president Emmanuel Macron issuing a collection of calls for on managing cross-Channel migration. Macron was duly enraged. He accused Johnson of not being critical and disinvited the British residence secretary from disaster talks.
One of those two males is about to hunt re-election. The different is underneath strain to ship on huge guarantees to tighten immigration. It is due to this fact arguably of their pursuits to ramp up the rhetoric. Behind this disagreement, nevertheless, it is vital that French and UK officers proceed to work collectively as they at all times have completed.
The offended exchanges between Macron and Johnson comply with months of stress over learn how to handle fishing waters after Brexit. Both sides have completed their bit to escalate the sick will right here, too. In the UK, this has manifested in a eager use of historic references amongst politicians and the media to remind the general public of simply how far again the bitterness runs. They have invoked well-recognised moments in historical past, from Agincourt to Waterloo to justify their respective positions.
Deploying historical past on this manner, devoid of its wider context, could also be a simple method to rating political factors but it surely may do long-term harm. Reducing Franco-British relations right into a collection of oversimplified tropes contributes to the misunderstanding that there’s some inherent rivalry between the 2 nations. In actuality, their shared historical past is much extra usually characterised by cooperation.
The ever-present Corsican
Napoleon and the Napoleonic period have been wielded as immediately recognisable markers of historic Franco-British rivalry. Speaking within the House of Commons, Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen implored the British authorities to face agency on fishing rights. Referring to Macron, he insisted that “historical past reveals us that this House and our nice nation’s pursuits are greatest served by standing as much as the threats of little Napoleons clinging on to energy”.
Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg argued on Twitter: “The French are at all times grumpy in October, the anniversaries of Trafalgar and Agincourt upset them.”
This is all basically based mostly on an assumption that stress with France is a pure and even inevitable state of affairs.
Katya Adler, BBC Europe editor, noticed that Macron, too, is utilizing historical past to achieve political floor within the upcoming presidential election. Under strain from the French far proper, Adler steered, Macron desires to be seen to be “standing as much as ‘perfidious Albion’”.
British criticisms of Macron within the wake of the latest Channel tragedy have taken an analogous tone. Franco-British “enmity” and the “Entente Discordiale” have been explicit themes within the press.
Reality on the bottom
But decreasing Franco-British relations to inherent rivalry is unhelpful and inaccurate. France and Britain have been at peace for over 200 years. During this time they’ve been allies, not adversaries, in European and international conflicts, in commerce agreements and in cultural actions.
Speaking about Franco-British cooperation throughout the Crimean War in 1856 British MP Evelyn Denison remarked “our alliance with France had been proved by extreme trials, by some reverses and by nice successes”.
In 1859 British Chancellor of the Exchequer Benjamin Disraeli reminded MPs that the Franco-British partnership was “… no new coverage. It is … an alliance impartial of dynasties, people or types of authorities.”
The identical is true immediately. Leaders discuss robust within the hope of averting private political losses however collaboration stays on the coronary heart of Franco-British relations. Focusing on the bickering ignores the extra pragmatic facet of diplomacy, which depends on long-term relationship constructing, not low cost level scoring.
Our analysis reveals that civil servants working behind the scenes have extremely efficient relationships with their counterparts. These relationships thrive regardless of floor tensions and transcend the vitriol that so usually characterises public discourse.
French and British safety and defence cooperation, enshrined by the 2010 Lancaster House treaties, has been one space of fruitful and lasting collaboration. This settlement has led to the creation of a shared army power and supplied for nuclear cooperation.
In 2019, an occasion we organised and hosted at defence and safety assume tank the Royal United Services Institute explored what it took to ship such a posh settlement. At the occasion, present and former French and British coverage makers served as “witnesses”. They spoke about their first-hand experiences involving the treaties.
All members emphasised that constant cooperation between the 2 states was way more ordinary than discord regardless that the occasion was being held on the peak of Brexit negotiations. Career civil servants, they argued, had been instrumental to the long-term success of agreements just like the Lancaster House treaties. These people, who stay in put up underneath a number of political administrations, had been recognized as an vital supply of continuity. Their work and the relationships they forge are important throughout occasions of political stress.
Former British Ambassador in Paris John Holmes described at an analogous occasion how essential it was in his position to situate the Franco-British relationship in the long run. The two nations have gone by ups and downs however cooperation continues, even when it isn’t being talked about.
This work is way more nuanced than the charged political rhetoric would lead us to imagine. In the case of the immigration debate, France and the UK signed a treaty in 2005 that sees them trusting one another to police their respective borders. This continues to operate whereas ministerial conferences are cancelled for theatre.
Now, whereas the very best profile figures change petty insults, the respective French and UK ambassadors in London and Paris, Catherine Colonna and Menna Rawlings, play an important position. As former UK ambassador to France Peter Ricketts has asserted in relation to the fishing debate, “it’s excessive time for some quiet, high-level diplomacy between London and Paris …”. The identical is true for the immigration dialogue – much more so on condition that lives are at stake.
Rogelia Pastor-Castro receives funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Rachel Chin receives funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. She has beforehand acquired analysis funding from the Leverhulme Trust.