Macron accuses UK of not keeping its word on Brexit and fishing


Relations between France and Britain are strained because the current UK government does not honour its word, president Emmanuel Macron has said.

Macron accused London of failing to keep its word on Brexit and fishing licences, but said France was willing to re-engage in good faith, and called for “British re-engagement” over the “humanitarian question” of dangerous Channel crossings, after at least 27 migrants drowned trying to reach the British coast.

“The problem with the British government is that it does not do what it says,” Macron told a news conference. He added however that there “had been progress” in the last weeks and that France wanted full cooperation with London.

“I love Great Britain, I love its people. I have an overwhelming desire to have a government that wants to works with us in good faith,” he said.

At an Élysée press conference to present France’s plans for its rotating presidency of the council of the European Union, Macron was asked about UK-French relations. There have been tensions about how to prevent further tragedy in the Channel as more people try to cross to claim asylum in the UK.

He also claimed the UK had an economic model that relied on illegal labour, which was serving as a pull factor across the Channel.

He said: “There is still an opaque system which has existed since the 1980s where the British economic model rests on the illegal labour of foreigners. If those situations aren’t dealt with by the British in good faith, we will always have this situation at our border where France has the goodwill to manage this point of passage.

“We need to work in good faith together on the issue of migration.”

He added: “If we want to solve that question of migration between our two countries, which has become a humanitarian question, we need British re-engagement.”

Macron said men and women were “living in terrible conditions” on the Calais coast because they “wanted to reach British soil”. He said France had offered accommodation centres and tens of thousands of meals throughout the year, but people wanted to reach the UK. He deplored the fact that “there is no legal procedure on processing asylum rights” by the British at the Channel border, which meant people were risking their lives to find a way to reach the UK in order to live there.

Macron said he hoped the row over the granting of British fishing licences to French fishers post-Brexit would be resolved before a French deadline on Friday, despite the UK denying that they are working to any such time framework. “There has been progress these past two weeks, progress, there has been a sincere re-engagement. I hope that new paths open up on it. I really hope that,” Macron said.

Macron said that on defence, Britain had pushed for the Aukus security pact between Britain, Australia and the US that prompted Australia to cancel a contract with France to buy submarines.

The cancellation of the submarines deal caused uproar in France, with accusations that its allies had stabbed it in the back. Macron for the first time publicly accused Britain of being “a fervent promoter” of the rival deal. “Can I ignore that the British were, it seems, the fervent promoters of a contract which deliberately fought against France’s interest in the Indo-Pacific to build an exclusive alternative vision?” he said.

He said all of this did not amount to “the signs of flagrant friendship, to use an understatement”, but he said he wanted to work with the British government in good faith.

Britain has said the Aukus deal was not intended to undermine its defence ties with France.

Before France’s rotating presidency of the council of the EU, Macron called for new mechanisms to protect the EU’s borders and to provide emergency support for border crises, after thousands of refugees gathered on the border between Belarus and Poland in recent months. Europe “needs to ensure the protection of its borders”, he told a news conference, adding that France would push for reform of the Schengen area of passport-free travel between 26 countries in Europe.

Macron, who is due to meet Germany’s new Social Democrat chancellor, Olaf Scholz, on Friday, also said the EU should reconsider its strict budget deficit rules as governments spend heavily to save their economies from the impact of Covid restrictions.



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