In the 24 years that I have been writing about France, such headlines, or such attitudes, have never existed.
Look, by comparison, at the sickening and mendacious nonsense in the British tabloid press today about the 48-hour French cross-Channel traffic ban.
This is the usual blame-the-French bollocks, doubtless encouraged by Johnson to distract from his own incompetence. In truth… Fr announced and kept to a 48 hr ban. Fr is uniquely in front line with thousands of lorries a day from the UK. Others, incl Germany, are harder line. https://t.co/D3OYaUekb0
— John Lichfield (@john_lichfield) December 23, 2020
“Kick in the baubles…Covidiot Macron forced to let truckers through (The Sun).
“Monsieur Roadblock gives way” (Daily Mail).
We’ve seen it all before of course. Remember the Mad Cow row in the late 1990? Or the second Iraq war in the early 2000’s when Jacques Chirac was portrayed as a worm on the front of The Sun (for refusing to join a war which most Britons now know was a mistake).
There have been many critical articles about Britain in the French press in my time but never the kind of lazy xenophobobic rabble-rousing which is common in the British tabloids (and now infects some, not all, so-called serious UK media and some, not all, BBC presenters).
There has been anger against Britain in French governments but never a systematic appeal to anti-British feeling (which in any case scarcely exists in France).
Brexit has made things worse but this kind of nonsense existed before Brexit (and helped to make Brexit happen). Even the supposedly Europhile Tony Blair government in 2003 misrepresented Chirac’s position on Iraq to help to stir up pro-war feeling in Britain.
What have the dastardly frogs done this time?
The British government dropped a bombshell-before-Christmas announcement that a new variant of Covid-19 was “running out of control” in south east England, especially Kent and Essex. The UK government told people not to travel out of the south east. Scotland advised no travel to England.
Over 50 countries around the word suspended or restricted travel from the UK. France announced a 48 hour freeze on all cross-Channel traffic but said that the border would reopen once health safeguards were in place.
A deserted Calais terminal as the border closure also proved painful for France. Photo: AFP
Two days later France has kept its word.
Trucks drivers, French and EU citizens and permanent French residents can once again cross the Channel from midnight last night so long as they have undergone negative Covid tests within 72 hours.
France originally insisted – wrongly, I believe – that the tests must be slow and elaborate PCR tests. It backed down under UK pressure in time to meet its 48-hour deadline. Other countries, including Germany, are still enforcing tougher bans on travel from the UK.
What should France have done? The health minister for England, Matt Hancock, said on Sunday that the virus mutant was “out of control” in Kent.
Should France, which currently has better Covid figures than all its neighbours, have let in 10,000 lorries from Kent without any precautions?
How would any UK government have reacted if the situation had been reversed. Imagine the Daily Mail headlines in those circumstances?
It is clear that Downing Street has been feeding the Francophobia in the last two days to distract from its own incompetence.
For the same reasons, it fed cheap jingoism a couple of weeks ago by announcing that four “gunboats” would police the boundary between French and UK waters post-Brexit (but there was no mention of Irish-UK or Danish-UK waters).
Tongue-in-cheek reaction from the Elysée on plans to deploy Royal navy ships to protect UK fishing waters: “keep calm and carry on,” an Elysée official tells me https://t.co/u3pYsijdgM
— Michel Rose (@MichelReuters) December 12, 2020
The Johnson government has been encouraging the willing belief in parts of the UK press that Emmanuel Macron, on his Covid sick bed in Versailles, has wickedly plotted to take advantage of Britain’s mutant virus scare.
Macron did so, we are told, to pile pressure on the UK in the last-ditch Brexit talks in Brussels and win more “British fish” for French boats. Or to cause scenes of truck-stacking mayhem in Kent which would give Britons a foretaste of the problems they might face in a no-deal Brexit.
Boris Johnson's government appears to have been encouraging the belief that Emmanuel Macron is plotting against the British. Photo: AFP
This is utter piffle and total invention.
The Channel blockade has been painful for France as well as the UK. Thousands of French Londoners have had their Christmas plans disrupted. Factories on both sides of the Channel have been forced to shut early for Christmas because they lacked the components they needed from factories on the other side. This is a reminder of the importance of the single market we are abandoning; but one caused by the virus not by Paris.
France was, in fact, one of the last EU countries to impose travel restrictions on the UK last Sunday. It was the only country to face such a clear and imminent threat from thousands of travellers passing through the geographical epicentre of Britain’s “runaway” (using Hancocks’s word) mutant virus.
What to conclude from all of this? Nothing very new. Just what we already know.
The present government is the most small-minded and mendacious in British history.
The newspapers who most wave the flag are those who most disgrace it.
The people who said Brexit would restore the Great in Great Britain are the people who will make Little England even littler.