Diplomats have been trying to arrange a high-level summit between Boris Johnson and the French President for months in an attempt to reset the relationship. But it has been reported that the French are refusing to agree to a date, with one source describing the cross-Channel ties as “appalling”. A senior diplomatic source told the Times newspaper: “The Government has reached out to try to arrange a summit but the French aren’t interested.
“They’ve simply said there’s no point.”
Normally cordial relations with France have been at a breaking point ever since Britain voted to renounce its European Union membership in June 2016.
President Macron is known as a hardliner in the bloc’s fight against Brexit and often used his position to make life difficult for our prime ministers.
A senior Government source said there was a view that “elements of the French system are basically crossing the street to pick a fight every day”.
Recent rows over post-Brexit fishing rights, cross-Channel migration, the supply and safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine and coronavirus quarantine restrictions have plunged relations to a new low.
French ministers were infuriated by what they saw as the Government’s attempts to talk up the early success of its vaccine rollout, all while the EU’s own scheme was faltering.
But politicians and officials in London soon found themselves incensed when President Macron cast doubt on the efficacy of the Oxford-developed AstraZeneca jab, claiming it was “quasi-ineffective” on people over 65.
Paris also disapproved of Britain’s refusal to support the EU in its bitter row with the Anglo-Swedish drugs giant over the supply of its shot to member states.
Ministers privately accused France of trying to blockade exports of the Pfizer vaccine to our shores as a result of the feud.
Relations continued to plummet in May when France threatened to cut off electricity supplies to Jersey amid a row over fishing rights.
Prime Minister Mr Johnson eventually dispatched a Royal Navy gunboat into the area to keep the peace as dozens of unruly French fishing vessels descended on the island’s largest port.
And a month later at the G7 summit in Cornwall, Downing Street embarrassed President Macron by briefing out details of a private meeting with Mr Johnson.
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A senior Government source said: “Both sides would acknowledge that the bilateral relationship is frayed and isn’t where we want it to be.
“There is a bit of a view that elements of the French system are basically crossing the street to pick a fight every day. Some of that is coming from the European Commission but we see it is being driven by French voices in the EU.
“We all want that barnacle off the boat. There is a huge desire on our side to be helpful.”
Summits have traditionally been held every two years in order to maintain harmonious Anglo-French ties.
But the last one was held in January 2018 and despite intense behind-the-scenes work, neither side has been able to agree on a date or agenda.