Macron called Boris Johnson ‘un clown’, French press reports

PM ‘looking for scapegoat because of failure of Brexit’, president is reported to have said

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 02 December 2021 09:06
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Emmanuel Macron 'surprised' by Boris Johnson's letter asking to take back all migrants

Fresh evidence has emerged of the depths to which the UK’s relationship with France has sunk, as French media reported that Emmanuel Macron referred to Boris Johnson in private as “un clown”.

Amid a continuing stand-off over France’s handling of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats, a former French ambassador to London, Sylvie Bermann, said that cross-Channel relations had “never been so bad since Waterloo”.

The magazine Le Canard Enchaîné quoted the French president describing the Johnson administration to advisers as a “circus” and accusing the prime minister of trying to portray himself as a victim in order to avoid blame for the “catastrophic” outcome of Brexit.

Home secretary Priti Patel was on Thursday visiting Italy to discuss illegal immigration, on the first leg of a drive to win support from capitals across the EU for the UK’s demands for tougher action in the Channel in the wake of last week’s tragic death of 27 people whose inflatable boat sank during an attempted crossing.

Mr Macron withdrew Ms Patel’s invitation to an emergency summit hosted by Paris on Sunday after Mr Johnson published a six-page letter to the president in which he demanded that France take back migrants who reach British shores but are deemed to be illegal.

Paris is instead offering to allow UK officials to process asylum claims on French soil, in a proposal dismissed by London as merely another “pull factor” to encourage migrants to come to the Channel coast.

According to Le Canard Enchaîné - a satirical and investigative publication similar to Private Eye - Mr Macron complained of Mr Johnson’s behaviour following a phone conversation shortly after last Wednesday’s tragedy.

Describing Mr Johnson as having “the attitude of a vulgarian”, the president reportedly added: “BoJo talks to me at full speed, everything is going fine, we have discussions like big people, and then he gives us a hard time before or afterwards in an inelegant way.

“It’s always the same circus.”

Three days later on Saturday, following the publication of Mr Johnson’s letter, Mr Macron is reported to have said: “It is sad to see a major country with which we could do huge numbers of things being led by a clown.”

The French president is reported to have blamed the PM’s attitude on the failure of Brexit.

“Brexit is the starting point of the Johnson circus,” he is reported to have said.

“The deal was signed on 24 December 2020. Very quickly he realised that the situation was catastrophic for the British. There was no petrol in the pumps, there were shortages of a whole pile of products.

“He is positioning himself as the victim and making France the scapegoat. He tries to turn simple situations into complex problems.

“We’ve been in this position since March. He’s done it over the ‘sausage war’ over fishing, over the submarine affair.

“In private he says he’s sorry to behave like this, but he says that he has to consider public opinion over everything else.”

Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson said he had not seen the report.

But he added: “The important thing that the public on both sides of the Channel want us to do is to focus on how we avoid further loss of life.”

There was no immediate response from the Elysée Palace to a request from The Independent for comment.

There was some progress in another issue bedevilled cross-Channel relations, with the announcement that Guernsey has approved all 43 of the licences which France was demanding for its fishing boats under the terms of Britain’s post-Brexit trade agreement.

However, Paris said that France is still awaiting 59 licences from Jersey and 52 licences to fish in the territorial waters 6-12 miles off Britain’s shores.

Speaking ahead of her meeting with Italian interior minister Luciana Lamorgese in Rome, Ms Patel said: “The appalling and tragic events in the Channel last week served as a reminder of how people are put at peril when in the hands of criminal gangs.

“It is not just in the Channel that we are seeing this appalling trade in human cargo or the weaponisation of people. From the thousands of people being smuggled in boats into Europe from Africa or the ongoing scenes at the Poland/Belarus border, this crisis is truly a global one that requires global solutions.

“That is why countries across Europe must come together to respond and strengthen both our resolve and borders to disrupt this trade, and that is exactly why I am in Italy today.”

The Home Office’s clandestine Channel threat commander denied on Wednesday that UK authorities had ignored calls for help from the victims of last week’s inflatable boat sinking.

Daniel O’Mahoney told the parliamentary human rights committee that there were “multiple migrant boats” in the water at the time and the coastguard responded to “every single one of them”.

He added: “I can’t tell you with any certainty whether we definitely received a call from that boat or not… if the people from that boat had called the UK authorities, I can tell you that we definitely responded to that call.”

The committee said that the government should scrap plans to turn back migrant boats at sea because they “endanger lives” and are likely to breach human rights laws.

In a report, it warned pushbacks are “not the solution” to curbing Channel crossings and would “do the opposite of what is required to save lives”.

But immigration minister Tom Pursglove told them: “The maritime tactics to which you refer have been signed off by ministers. We consider that they are safe and legal.

“I am clear that we will always act in accordance with international maritime law.”

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