With Fish, Trucks and Submarines, U.K. and France Bicker Over Brexit
Nowhere is that mistrust more palpable, diplomats said, than between Mr. Macron, a 43-year-old former banker, and Mr. Johnson, a 57-year-old onetime journalist. “In both London and Paris, there is a sense that the relationship will not get fixed as long as Macron is in the Élysée Palace and Johnson is in No. 10,” said Peter Westmacott, who preceded Mr. Ricketts as Britain’s ambassador to France.
Britain’s departure from the European Union was a particular blow to Mr. Macron because it upset the power balance that had existed between the bloc’s three big states: Britain, France, and Germany. Now Mr. Macron is struggling to assert France’s leadership in a Europe dominated by Germany.
“France and Macron have made the E.U. such a central pillar of their domestic and foreign policy,’’ said Georgina Wright, a British expert on relations between France and Britain at the Institut Montaigne, a research organization in Paris. “It is very difficult for him to cooperate with the U.K. government which continues to have a very antagonistic tone toward the E.U.”
At home, Mr. Macron is leading in the polls but faces a robust challenge from the right. His main rivals all express skepticism about the European Union, though none argue for a split from the union. Éric Zemmour, a provocative far-right TV star and writer who has shot up to second place in most polls, has said that Britain won the battle of Brexit and argues for a stronger France within Europe. So does Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally, who is polling third.
Confronted with these challenges, “Emmanuel Macron’s message is to assert that being a member of the union entails obligations and rights, and that France takes part in all aspects of European politics,” said Thibaud Harrois, an expert on French-British relations at the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle.
Unlike in Britain, however, where tensions with France preoccupy Downing Street and supply grist for headlines in pro-Conservative tabloids, Mr. Macron’s hard line toward Britain is mainly a political calculation. There is little evidence that anti-British sentiment galvanizes the broader population.
For London, however, the fights over fish augur a much larger battle over its relationship with the European Union. Britain is now expected to upend its agreement with Brussels over how to treat Northern Ireland, which awkwardly straddles the trading systems of Britain and the union.