I love you, me neither. Franco-British relations are, as we know, of the tumultuous kind: millennial enemies, allies of the world wars, historical rival in rugby, football and in almost all sports, they hate our rock but love our clothes, we laugh of their cuisine but we savor their beers. And in this strange agreement, each new head of state is watched with suspicion on the other side of the Channel: he/she arrives, good news gold bad news ?
So imagine when the new British Prime Minister, Liz Truss, inducted on Monday, came out not two weeks ago that she did not know if Emmanuel Macron was a “friend” or an “enemy”. Bad mood ahead?
So British pragmatism
Be careful not to prefigure all future British foreign policy on the basis of this single statement, admittedly very offensive: “This was a question in an internal debate of the Conservative Party, where the aim was to rally the most of the voting members”, recontextualizes Agnès Alexandre-Collier, professor at the University of Burgundy, co-author of Political parties in Britain (Collection U, 2013) and specialist in British political life. A very politicized and radicalized sample of the population, therefore, “which invited the escalation of the discourse. A little of french bashing in the campaign, it never hurts and it makes voters happy. Now that Liz Truss sits in Downing Street, her speech “is going to become national and less about party ideology alone.”
Same observation with Philippe Chassaigne, professor of contemporary history and specialist in Great Britain: “The Conservative Party in no way represents British opinion. The Prime Minister will inevitably soften her positions. Liz Truss is known for her political pragmatism: she voted against Brexit in 2016, before becoming one of his strongest supporters in order to agree with the political line of Boris Johnson.
The lost dream of “Global Britain”
“Once in place, realpolitik and the facts catch up with you”, summarizes Agnès Alexandre-Collier. Especially since realpolitik is rather gratin at the moment on the other side of the Channel, with inflation exceeding 10% over one year, an energy crisis, massive strikes, a shortage of workers and a Brexit a bit slower than expected. The United Kingdom therefore really does not have enough to puff out, and given that on the side of France, the weather is not looking good either, “having a minimum of good relations, diplomatic and economic, is essential, ”announces the professor, the remaining Twenty-seven the first economic partner of Great Britain.
BoJo had tried to emancipate itself by seeking to resuscitate “Global Britain”, a vast concept wishing to maximize trade agreements with the former colonies of the British Empire. But there too, the principle of reality struck: “It’s more of the order of fantasy. Example with India. The Indians certainly have a partly British cultural heritage and express themselves well in English. But the country has no economic affinity with the United Kingdom. New Delhi is more focused on the Asian market, and that’s completely normal,” points out Philippe Chassaigne.
Populism so tempting
The same goes for Washington, which has not spared London, as the history professor lists. In 2016, following Brexit, Barack Obama said that the United Kingdom was at the bottom of the list of countries likely to obtain a free trade agreement with the United States. Then Donald Trump multiplied his usual about-face with the historic ally. And today, Joe Biden’s Irish origins “do not plead in favor of a good agreement with London, given the thorny issue of the Northern Irish border”, finishes Philippe Chassaigne.
What convince London to turn more to Paris and Berlin? Not so fast. The simmering crisis across the Channel could on the contrary be the perfect opportunity to hit Europe even harder, “just to create a diversion”, believes Elvire Fabry, researcher and Brexi specialist at the Jacques Delors Institute. Liz Truss was Minister of Foreign Affairs under BoJo, and she was not very easy, recalls the researcher: “During the fishing crisis in Franco-British waters, she threatened to send the Royal Navy. Throughout her campaign, she pushed for a new regulation of the Northern Irish agreement”, the hottest point of disagreement with Brussels.
Johnson’s legacy remains firmly rooted: “British identity is increasingly being built in opposition to European identity, and anti-European and anti-French populism should work for a long time to come”, continues Gilles Leydier, professor and specialist in Great Britain. at the University of South Toulon-Var. Still, politics, a fortiori British, is surprising, he concludes: “Liz Truss will really prove herself once in power, for good or for bad. She is often compared to Margaret Thatcher, but when the latter arrived in office, no one knew that she would make such an impression. » What will be, will be, Whatever Will Be, Will Be.