As France stands poised to take on the rotating presidency of the European Union, we speak to the Minister for European Affairs, Clément Beaune. In recent weeks, there have been heated words between Paris and London over several issues, including irregular migration across the English Channel.
Responding to an announcement from British Interior Minister Priti Patel that the UK Border Force will be ordered to turn back boats, Beaune told FRANCE 24: “I don’t think it should happen. This is a very, very serious matter, that we take seriously. It deserves better than punchlines for domestic reasons. There is a lot of engagement on our side, our police force and gendarmerie are working very strongly with the UK on this. It has been mentioned that the UK border force could push back people in the Channel – I think it is extremely dangerous, probably contrary to international law.”
Earlier this week, Australia announced it was pulling out of a €56 billion deal to buy French-made submarines – this as part of a new defence pact Canberra is entering into with the United States and the UK. British PM Boris Johnson said the move hadn’t damaged relations with France; however Clément Beaune indicated that the episode had indeed muddied the waters between London and Paris, saying: “We need clarity about what the UK’s strategic position is”.
Recent events in Afghanistan have intensified talk in Europe about European defence co-operation. French President Emmanuel Macron has long been a proponent of more co-operation between EU militaries. On the question of whether France’s plans can work alongside EU states’ NATO memberships, Beaune insists there is no clash: “NATO is part of the game; it is part of the map, we don’t have to invent something that is beside NATO or against NATO – this is complementary.”
And in the week that British retailer Marks & Spencer announced it would close more than half of its stores in France, the minister rejected the idea that post-Brexit trade rules could be rewritten: “We have an agreement. It’s been negotiated and agreed jointly. No one was forced to accept it. Let’s be honest, there are some issues we are not happy about – trade frictions. But they are inevitable, they are due to Brexit. It’s not a matter of blaming or punishing anyone; it’s an inevitable consequence of being outside a common market. The frictions result from Brexit. And the people who said you can have Brexit with no trade friction did not tell the truth.”