France and Britain: A history of relations

Can it possibly work? Yesterday's Ministry of Defence green paper suggests that, to save taxpayers' money, Britain and France should co-operate more closely on military matters. It is a fact often forgotten that the two countries ceased fighting each other almost two centuries ago (leaving aside occasional misunderstandings in Africa, the Middle East, Twickenham etc). On the other hand, the history of Anglo-French collusion since the Battle of Waterloo has not been an entente tout à fait cordiale. Here is a brief guide to some of des hauts et des bas (ups and downs) of cross-Channel collaboration in the past two centuries.

Crimean War, 1853-56

Fighting on the same side, more than 400,000 French troops were deployed (100,000 casualties) and 250,000 British troops (21,000 casualties), for very little gain.

Success rating: Deux sur dix (2 out of 10).

France, May and June, 1940

According to British history, a heroic rearguard allowed 330,000 troops to be evacuated from Dunkirk. French history says the British ran away.

Success rating: zéro sur dix (according to the French).

Success rating: Cinq sur dix (5/10) (according to the British)

Suez crisis, 1956

London and Paris took grave exception when the Suez Canal was nationalised in 1956. Almost 45,000 British soldiers (16 killed and 96 wounded) and 34,000 French soldiers (10 killed and 33 wounded) were sent to Egypt.

Success rating: zéro sur dix (0/10)

Serge and Jane, 1969

Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin's heavy-breathing pop duet "Je T'aime, Moi Non Plus" sold a million copies in just a few weeks.

Success rating: Neuf sur dix (9/10)

Concorde, 1976-2003

The two governments never recouped the £1bn-plus spent on development. But Concorde was a great symbol of Franco-British aeronautical know-how and co-operation.

Success rating: Sept sur dix (7/10)

Channel Tunnel, 1994-

The Chunnel has brought the two nations closer together, physically – and psychologically (discuss).

Success rating: Neuf sur dix (9/10)

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