French President Emmanuel Macron is a friend of Britain, Prime Minister Liz Truss said on Thursday, having declared earlier this year while campaigning to become leader that the jury was out on whether he was a friend or foe.
Truss met Macron for a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the French president’s European Political Community meeting in Prague, aimed at bringing the continent together in the face of Russian aggression.
The two leaders afterwards pledged “ambitious” measures to tackle illegal migration against a background of record numbers of people making the dangerous journey across the Channel by boat from northern France.
Truss had given her “jury’s out” answer during her campaign to succeed Boris Johnson as Conservative party leader, delighting the Eurosceptic Tory faithful.
But it raised eyebrows as she was foreign minister at the time and supposedly in charge of diplomatic relations with Britain’s neighbour.
Historically complicated relations between Britain and France have become more tense ever since Britain left the EU in early 2020, inflamed by disputes over control of border posts and the flow of migrants crossing the sea from Calais to southern England.
“I work very, very closely with President Macron and the French government and what we’re talking about is how the UK and France can work more closely together to build more nuclear power stations, and to make sure that both countries have energy security in the future,” Truss said. “We’re both very clear: The foe is Vladimir Putin.”
Asked directly if she considered him a friend, Truss replied: “He is a friend.”
At a news conference after the European Political Community meeting, Macron said he was glad Truss joined other leaders at the summit.
“It’s very good to have Liz Truss in Prague,” said Macron. “This is an island, but this island didn’t move from the continent,” Macron said of Britain. “I really hope this is the beginning of the day after.”
‘Ambitious package of measures’
In a statement after Thursday’s meeting, the two leaders promised to come up with solutions to deal with migrant crossings and to hold the next UK-France Summit in 2023.
They agreed “to deepen cooperation on illegal migration within the bounds of international law, to tackle criminal groups trafficking people across Europe, ending in dangerous journeys across the Channel.
“Interior Ministers should conclude an ambitious package of measures this autumn,” it added.
Macron often had prickly relations with Truss’s predecessor Johnson, who spearheaded the successful campaign to take Britain out of the European Union.
But Johnson, who joked in Franglais that Macron was “un très bon buddy” (a very good friend), called Anglo-French relations “of huge importance”.
The two nations are close NATO allies and UN Security Council members.
Macron at the time played down Truss’s remarks, saying he would not hesitate for a “second” in affirming Britain as an ally.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and Reuters)