Little point prolonging EU talks into autumn, Johnson tells Macron
Boris Johnson has told Emmanuel Macron that he sees little point prolonging UK-EU talks on a future trading relationship into the autumn.
The French president was in London on Thursday for a largely ceremonial visit. No 10 said Johnson had welcomed a recent agreement to intensify talks on the issue in July. However, comments dismissing the idea of “prolonged negotiations” suggest that Johnson is increasingly prepared to end the talks without an agreement and thinks both sides would need time to prepare for this rather than make last-minute adjustments in December when the existing transition period expires.
The two sides remain locked over the degree to which the UK will have to accept the EU’s level playing field.
The talks also ended without an announcement from Downing Street over quarantine requirements. At present most visitors to the UK, including from France, must isolate for 14 days after arrival. Some ministers are pushing the idea of “air bridges” where a few countries would be exempt. The Telegraph reported that changes could be brought in from 4 July which would allow some foreign travel in time for the summer holiday season.
Despite the political disputes, a speech by Macron, in which he marked the 80th anniversary of a historic wartime broadcast by Gen Charles de Gaulle from the BBC’s headquarters in London, lavished praise on the British for acting as a shelter for the French.
The “appel”, in which De Gaulle urged his compatriots to resist the German occupation, came the day after Field Marshal Philippe Pétain in Bordeaux had in effect surrendered and on the same day that Winston Churchill had told MPs that Britain was facing its finest hour.
In the speech in front of Prince Charles, Macron said: “The United Kingdom gave free France its first weapon: the microphone of the BBC. This is where De Gaulle was able to form the first ranks of the French army which would go on fighting. The soldiers of London. This is where de Gaulle was able to call on the French people to join the resistance. The soldiers of the shadows.”
He added: “Your nation spearheaded the liberation of the world.”
He also feted Winston Churchill, referring to Britain’s wartime leader and saying he had nothing to offer save for “blood, toil, tears and sweat”. Macron added: “Yet he offered something so much more important: determination, faith in victory, honour and pride.”
Before travelling to London, Macron attended a traditional military ceremony at the Mont-Valérien memorial, west of Paris, to honour the memory of the roughly 1,000 hostages and resistance fighters executed by the Nazis.
In London, at Clarence House Prince Charles said De Gaulle’s resolute determination had lessons for those striving “to rebuild our economies in a way that is truly sustainable, and secures the critically endangered future of this singular planet which we share”.
It was the first time since the coronavirus crisis that Macron had travelled abroad. Johnson met Macron on the steps of Downing Street without a handshake and they stood two metres apart as they posed for photographs.
Before going to London, Macron had also spent an hour at the Liberation of Paris Museum with Hubert Germain, 99, one of the last four Companions of the Liberation – those who received the Order of Liberation honour for their conduct in the war – still alive.
“We have to be inspired by this strength of soul. Even when the love of the fatherland seems to fade … the example of the general must inspire the young generations,” he told the former resistance fighter.
The UK granted MBEs to the quartet, and in return London as a city was granted the Légion d’honneur, accepted by Prince Charles and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
Both Johnson and Macron are great admirers of their nations’ respective war leaders, and they took time to examine mementoes from the period, including the microphone De Gaulle used for address; a memo from the senior British officer liaising with the free French, Maj Gen Edward Spears; and a letter from De Gaulle to Churchill giving thanks.
Johnson wrote scathingly in his Churchill biography about both De Gaulle and the valour of the French troops in the second world war. In it he said: “The French were possessed of an origami army; they just kept folding with magical speed.” He also described De Gaulle as “exhausting and almost intolerable”.