During Brexit trade talks, French President Emmanuel Macron proved a difficult customer as he threatened to veto a deal – risking a no deal scenario. A deal was reached, but not without tense clashes over fishing, trade and borders. On New Year’s Day, Mr Macron claimed that Brexit was built on “lies and false promises” as the UK’s full departure from the bloc’s laws and institutions was confirmed. Meanwhile, France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said that he hoped the UK would return to the EU one day.
He continued in an interview with Politico: “I don’t forget that there are veterans and youths who were hoping for a future within the EU and hope to rebuild it another way or return one day.
“I hope the UK will return to the EU one day, to be honest.”
But this view may not have been shared by others in Paris, as comments made by a French politician in 2014 indicate some in France have long been hoping for the UK to leave the EU.
Former Prime Minister Michel Rocard wrote an article with the title “A French message to Britain: get out of Europe before you wreck it” at the time, when a referendum on membership seemed a distant prospect.
He also blamed the UK for “never allow[ing] the slightest deepening of the [European] union”, as a result of which it had “remained bogged down and badly run, an economic giant, a political dwarf.”
He made his comments on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy.
Quoting Winston Churchill on a “United States of Europe”, he also hit out at the UK’s approach to UK politics.
Mr Rocard added: “Now you pretend to want to exit.
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“The majority of your people are in no doubt about it. But you have a banking interest in remaining to capitalise on the disorder that you have helped to create.”
Mr Macron tried to ease tensions following the UK’s trade deal agreement in December, describing the country as a “friend and an ally” to France.
The French President also boasted of European unity amid the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic turmoil.
He added: “Our destiny is first and foremost in Europe. We were able to convince Germany, and then the other members of the EU, to devise a single, massive recovery plan and to decide on a common, solidarity-based common debt program to better prepare for our future, engaging in a digital and green transition and creating as many jobs as possible.”
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The latest row between Brussels and London involves an EU ban on shellfish imports from the UK has once again propelled fishing to the fore, as post-Brexit relations between the EU and Britain continue to sour.
Brussels has told British fishermen they are barred indefinitely from selling live mussels, oysters, clams and cockles to EU member states.
The shellfish can be transported to Europe, but only if they have been treated in purification plants.
The move combined with the new bureaucracy of exporting into Europe as a result of Brexit has left many fishermen and business owners in a difficult position.