As an alternative 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 sequence of calls for on managing cross-Channel migration. Macron was duly enraged. He accused Johnson of not being severe and disinvited the British house secretary from disaster talks.
Considered one of these two males is about to hunt re-election. The opposite is underneath strain to ship on huge guarantees to tighten immigration. It’s due to this fact arguably of their pursuits to ramp up the rhetoric. Behind this disagreement, nonetheless, it can be crucial that French and UK officers proceed to work collectively as they at all times have completed.
The indignant exchanges between Macron and Johnson observe months of pressure over methods to handle fishing waters after Brexit. Either side have completed their bit to escalate the unwell will right here, too. Within 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’ve 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 straightforward solution to rating political factors nevertheless it might do long-term injury. Decreasing Franco-British relations right into a sequence 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. Talking within the Home of Commons, Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen implored the British authorities to face agency on fishing rights. Referring to Macron, he insisted that “historical past exhibits us that this Home 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.”
That is all basically based mostly on an assumption that pressure 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 realize political floor within the upcoming presidential election. Below strain from the French far proper, Adler recommended, Macron desires to be seen to be “standing as much as ‘perfidious Albion’”.
British criticisms of Macron within the wake of the current Channel tragedy have taken the same tone. Franco-British “enmity” and the “Entente Discordiale” have been explicit themes within the press.
Actuality on the bottom
However lowering Franco-British relations to inherent rivalry is unhelpful and inaccurate. France and Britain have been at peace for over 200 years. Throughout this time they’ve been allies, not adversaries, in European and world conflicts, in commerce agreements and in cultural actions.
Talking about Franco-British cooperation through the Crimean Conflict 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’s … an alliance unbiased of dynasties, people or types of authorities.”
The identical is true at present. Leaders speak powerful within the hope of averting private political losses however collaboration stays on the coronary heart of Franco-British relations. Specializing in 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 Home treaties, has been one space of fruitful and lasting collaboration. This settlement has led to the creation of a shared army pressure and offered for nuclear cooperation.
In 2019, an occasion we organised and hosted at defence and safety assume tank the Royal United Companies Institute explored what it took to ship such a fancy settlement. On 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 far more recurring than discord regardless that the occasion was being held on the peak of Brexit negotiations. Profession civil servants, they argued, had been instrumental to the long-term success of agreements just like the Lancaster Home 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 crucial throughout instances of political pressure.
Former British Ambassador in Paris John Holmes described at the same occasion how essential it was in his function to situate the Franco-British relationship in the long term. The 2 nations have gone by ups and downs however cooperation continues, even when it isn’t being talked about.
This work is far more nuanced than the charged political rhetoric would lead us to imagine. Within 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 perform whereas ministerial conferences are cancelled for theatre.
Now, whereas the best profile figures change petty insults, the respective French and UK ambassadors in London and Paris, Catherine Colonna and Menna Rawlings, play a significant function. 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 Analysis Council.
Rachel Chin receives funding from the Arts and Humanities Analysis Council. She has beforehand obtained analysis funding from the Leverhulme Belief.