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POLITICS

OPINION: Cheap French-bashing is an old tune from British press and politicians

Headlines in French press: “Keep out the filthy Rosbifs and their mutant Boris virus.” Or “Shut the Channel for a year!. That will show Plague Island.” You didn’t see those headlines? Not surprising. I made them up, writes John Lichfield.

OPINION: Cheap French-bashing is an old tune from British press and politicians
Has Emmanuel Macron really been plotting against the British from his sickbed? Photo: AFP

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.

 

“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.

READ ALSO UK travel ban – who can travel to France and what documents do they need?

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).

 

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.

Member comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more I made the last boat out of Dover on Sunday all those fools that voted Brexit will pay the price especially as it was the silver backs that sent us back to the ‘good old days’ and the filthy rich tories that can not see any problem in rule Britannia . Rather ironic the vaccine that will save the remaining silver backs was developed in Germany and manufactured in Belgium .

  2. Thank you for a well balanced report. Our current government’s posturing, bullying attitude & small mindedness, make me cringe. It’s becoming an an embarrassment to admit to being British. What a tragedy. Please France …. don’t think that we are all like that !

  3. The UK fishing industry currently sells 70% of its annual catch to the EU – mostly to France. Who exactly do they imagine is going to buy all this fish after we “regain our sovereignty” in the Channel? WTO tarifs will make it too expensive to sell and that’s an awful lot of rotting fish to get rid of.

  4. Oh John you are so right. The British tabloids are appalling and even formerly logical friends are falling for the rubbish written about the French. I will distribute your article far and wide (in UK) Even the BBC were naming ONLY France for the travel ban yesterday. As for fish, we know that the British only eat cod, plaice and fish fingers and that there are hardly any trawlers left nor fish shops

  5. What can you expect from the UK gutter press? Corrupt, corrupted and corrupting in its influence. The worst in the world. And, quite frankly, if the UK had politicians of the quality and calibre of Macron, Merkel, Tusk or Rutte we wouldn’t be in the state we are now. Which is up the proverbial creek sans pagaie.

  6. Not sure I entirely agree with this story. This form of virus is already all over European, it is just that the U.K. have spent a bit of money to find the different strains. It is likely if other European nations did similar they would also find it, but for certain reason they decide not to investigate what strains of the virus are prevalent in their countries….I think after the reaction of the world when British Government did the honest and right thing of announcing there was a strain in the South East of England, no other nation will feel confident in sharing there findings in the future due to being treat in the same manner.

  7. Not sure I entirely agree with this story. This form of virus is already all over European, it is just that the U.K. have spent a bit of money to find the different strains. It is likely if other European nations did similar they would also find it, but for certain reason they decide not to investigate what strains of the virus are prevalent in their countries….I think after the reaction of the world when British Government did the honest and right thing of announcing there was a strain in the South East of England, no other nation will feel confident in sharing there findings in the future due to being treat in the same manner.

  8. The inevitable Brexit crash, and concomitant toxic fall-out over Little England – province of Brexitania – has yet to occur. However, when it does it will reverberate around the globe for years to come.
    Europe will stumble, but it will duly recover and go on to become a major player.
    The UK, meanwhile, will struggle not to implode.
    The problem for most of we European Brits is; we get paid in GDP. That could become a major issue for many.

  9. incredible British readers believe that this fact that Britain, and Britain alone has found this new strain would have one believe that Britain has a competent government who was managing the pandemic. Can someone please provide the evidence that Britain indeed spent money and Europe hasn’t? Could it be, that the govt knew about this strain back in October and did what they do best….dither! But at least they can blame the French, Germans, remainers etc for everything that goes wrong and if need be do a U_turn at the next junction.

  10. One just has to read the comments in the guttersnipe press over the last five years to realise that the lower end of the British press are just helping to stir the pot. The outright lies they publish about the EU makes one wonder if the so called journalists have had any education at all. I think not.

  11. “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).”
    Is this true? I’ve heard anti-British grumbling from my French and European circles since arriving in Europe over 10 years ago. Is there a study or data that shows “anti-British feeling scarcely exists in France,” or is this just the author’s personal perception?

  12. No Bridget there is no real anti British feelings in France and I’m French. There are always grumblings about another country, it’s human nature, but absolutely nothing like the bile in the British guttersnipe press and in their deplorable comment sections regarding France or the French. Now if you are a Parisian, well that’s a different matter.

  13. I have never felt any antipathy about being born British while living here. Perhaps French society is a little more grown-up. I have had previously circumspect English acquaintances recently angrily saying that the Covid travel restrictions were an act of political spite by Europe and particularly France. I think that’s proof enough of England’s recent descent into idiot xenophobia, the fact that previously decent people believe the hateful UK press. To a degree, it may be karmic chickens coming home to roost – if you spend years calling your neighbours c***s, they may be a little more reluctant to help you need it.

  14. Just one little mention of what happened to the Chinese variety of covid virus, if one listens and watches French TV we now have only the English mutant to fear. Just making a comment !

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POLITICS

France says all troops left Mali, ending nine-year military mission

The last soldiers belonging to France's Barkhane operation in Mali have now left the African country, the French chiefs of staff said on Monday.

France says all troops left Mali, ending nine-year military mission

French forces have been supporting Mali against insurgents for nearly a decade, but President Emmanuel Macron decided to pull out after France and the Malian junta fell out in the wake of a military takeover.

“Today at 13H00 Paris time (1100 GMT) the final contingent of the Barkhane force still on Malian territory crossed the border between Mali and Niger,” the statement said.

The army had met the “major military logistics challenge” of the pull-out “in an orderly and safe fashion”, it added.

After ties ruptured between Paris and the junta that took power in Mali in August 2020, France began to withdraw its troops in February, as jihadist violence surged in the Sahel.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Why were French soldiers in Mali?

Friction developed over the junta’s delays in restoring civilian rule and escalated when Mali brought in Russian paramilitaries — personnel described by France as “mercenaries” from the pro-Kremlin Wagner group.

‘Prevented caliphate’

Macron on Monday congratulated the military on its nine years in Mali, saying it had “prevented the establishment of a territorial caliphate, and fought against terrorists that attack local populations and threaten Europe”. 

Most high-ranking members of the “terrorist groups” had been “neutralised”, he said, adding that 59 French soldiers had died in Mali in total.

More than 2,000 civilians have been killed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso since the start of the year, according to an AFP tally based on the findings of non-governmental organisation ACLED.

In this file photo taken on December 07, 2021 shows the French flag and France-led special operations logo for the new Task Force Takuba, a multinational military mission in sub-Saharan Africa’s troubled Sahel region. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

BACKGROUND: France announces withdrawal of troops from Mali

At its peak, France’s Barkhane mission had 5,100 troops among five Sahel allies, all former French colonies — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The forces have provided key support in air power, troop transport and reconnaissance. France has an air base in Niger’s capital Niamey where it has deployed drones.

After the Malian pullout, the mission will have “around 2,500” troops, Barkhane commander General Laurent Michon said last month.

The reconfigured mission will emphasise “more cooperative operations,” he said.

Frontline Niger

France will keep more than 1,000 men in Niger, where a tactical group will continue to work in partnership with the Nigerien forces.

Niger is a frontline state in the fight against jihadism as the unstable region struggles with a string of military coups.

“The democratic regression in West Africa is extremely worrying,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told French MPs ahead of a trip to the region in July. 

“However, in spite of these events (and) the withdrawal from Mali, France will continue to help West African armies fight terrorist groups.”

Niger is one of the biggest recipients of French aid, receiving 143 million euros ($146 million) last year.

READ ALSO: France calls Mali’s exit from defence accords ‘unjustified’

The two sides will sign agreements for a French loan of 50 million euros and a grant of 20 million euros.

Niger, the world’s poorest country by the benchmark of the UN’s Human Development Index, has been badly hit by the jihadist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012 and then swept to neighbouring countries.

Niger is facing insurgencies both on its western border with Mali and Burkina Faso and on its south-eastern frontier with Nigeria.

More than a thousand troops will be deployed in Niger, providing air support and training, according to French sources.

French troops are also in Gabon, Ivory Coast and Senegal, as well as in the east of Africa, in Djibouti.

READ ALSO: Macron agrees to return Benin sculptures ‘without delay’

Macron in June asked the government and military chiefs “to rethink our overall presence on the African continent by the autumn.”

He called for “a presence that is less static and less exposed” and “a closer relationship” with African armed forces.

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