French President Emmanuel Macron has suggested it is a “problem” if Britain cannot call itself a friend of France, amid an unexpected diplomatic row sparked by comments made by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss at a hustings.
The French premier said he believed the UK was a “friend”, despite what the Foreign Secretary might suggest, after Ms Truss told Tory members at a leadership hustings in Norwich on Thursday that she was undecided as to whether the French leader was “friend or foe”.
Mr Macron, asked his views on the comments, responded after a long pause: “Listen, it’s never good to lose your bearings too much in life. If one asks the question – which is how I will answer you – whoever is considered for the leadership in Great Britain, I won’t ponder it for a single second.
“The United Kingdom is a friend of France, and you know we live in a complicated world, there are more and more liberals, authoritarian democracies, so there is a sense of imbalance,” he told FranceInfo.
Liz Truss and Emmanuel Macron GB News
“If the French and British are not capable of saying whether we are friends or enemies – the term is not neutral – we are going to have a problem.
“So yes of course the British people, the nation which is the United Kingdom, is a friend, strong and allied, whoever its leaders are and sometimes in spite of the leaders and the small mistakes they can make in their speeches.”
A number of issues have undermined relations between the UK and France in recent months, including boat crossings in the Channel and travel chaos around Dover, which Ms Truss blamed on a lack of staffing by the French authorities.
The comments came after Ms Truss and Rishi Sunak were asked a series of quickfire questions at the Norwich hustings.
Ms Truss was asked during the hustings: “President Macron, friend or foe?”
“The jury’s out,” she responded to loud applause.
“But if I become prime minister, I would judge him on deeds, not words.”
The former chancellor Mr Sunak had quickly answered “friend” when asked the same question.
Boris Johnson appeared to try to diminish any doubts about the strength of the UK-French relationship.
The Prime Minister said: “I think I’ve always had very good relations with Emmanuel Macron. Emmanuel Macron est un tres bon buddy de notre pays.”
He added: “I think the relations between the UK and France are of huge importance. They have been very good for a long time, ever since the Napoleonic era basically, and I think we should celebrate that.
“As for Emmanuel, I’ve had very good relations with him and I can tell you something. He’s a great, great fan of our country.”
The Chancellor was among those to defend Ms Truss on Friday, suggesting the anger over the comments was overblown.
“It was clearly said as a light-hearted comment with a touch of humour,” Mr Zahawi told broadcasters.
“Stating the obvious, France is one of our closest strategic allies in defence and security, of course, in our effort to face down Putin in his illegal invasion of a free and democratic country in Ukraine,” the Chancellor added.
“We like people to judge us on our actions, on our deeds, not words. And I think it is right that we also hold our allies to that very high standard.”