France’s new foreign minister says UK ‘not making enough effort’ and ‘too aggressive’

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Barely a month after the French elections, Emmanuel Macron’s new cabinet is racing to keep a lid on the country’s cost of living crisis. To do this, the French President has introduced a string of new faces to the front bench of his team, including many career bureaucrats and politicians who have slowly worked their way through the halls of the Palais Bourbon. Catherine Colonna’s appointment as foreign minister has drawn particular attention because of her previous role as ambassador to the UK.

It was in this role that she regularly cast fierce glances in Britain’s direction, including during the English Channel migrant crisis and fishing license controversy.

Only the second woman to take the helm of France’s foreign ministry, Ms Colonna is an experienced diplomat having started her career at the French embassy in the USA in the early Eighties.

From this point in the early Eighties Ms Colonna worked a series of roles in French politics, and in 2019, took the job of France’s ambassador to the UK, around the time when relations between France and Britain were spiralling.

Her criticism of the UK Government was varied, with fiery messages exchanged as recently as last year when she quote retweeted a passage from a member of the Eurasia Group: “The reason the UK is so belligerent is precisely because the EU is so accommodating,” commenting: “[This] is an opinion we hear more and more here. Troubling.”

Shortly after that she aimed another shot at the UK, this time blasting it for being too “aggressive” in its positioning in Europe post-Brexit.

She told the French Senate: “Following Brexit, the UK Government had the choice between two possible attitudes: try to moderate the impact of Brexit and get closer to its European neighbours or continue to play an aggressive policy by identifying Europeans as the main source of difficulties.”

The UK, she said, chose “the latter course”.

She added: “All the ‘knife strokes’ made to the contracts – that is to say the withdrawal agreement with the Northern Irish protocol of October 2019 and the trade and cooperation agreement of December 2020 – were by the United Kingdom.”

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Ms Colonna also opined on the shared migrant crisis between France and the UK, which saw tens of thousands of migrants cross the English Channel in boats in recent years.

In the first year of Brexit a record number of migrants crossed the English Channel from France to the UK, the figure thought to be more than 25,000 — just over three times the total in 2020.

Despite the tragic humanitarian crisis that unfolded, including numbers of men, women and children drowning in their attempts to reach Britain, London and Paris went head-to-head in a finger-pointing game, each side blaming the other.

Ms Colonna had her own take on the situation: “France is making much more effort in this area than the United Kingdom, which tends to forget this.


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“The political atmosphere is not good: there is no impetus on the British side, even though our two countries share, on most international issues, the same interests, the same values, the same capacity of commitment; in short, the same vision. It’s unfortunate.”

Her criticism has not been limited to French-UK relations, with her spats often bleeding into the broader EU-UK fallout.

On the Northern Ireland Protocol, she said: We must fight the vision that Northern Ireland is in a totally disorderly situation, as the British government is trying to convey.

“This strategy is actually aimed at renegotiating the Northern Irish protocol or the triggering of Article 16.

“Today, and we regret it, Franco-British relations are deeply affected, less by Brexit than by the way the British Government is implementing it.”

Despite all of this, on departing, Ms Colonna had some warm words for her colleagues and time in London: “I wanted to thank everyone who understood we are friends of this country and will keep working for a better future.”

She will be joined by Clémenet Beaune in her new role, who moves from Secretary of State to Europe minister.

Mr Beaune too has given his fair share of criticism to the UK, only last summer saying he was “worried” by Britain’s “behaviour” towards the Brexit agreement.

Elsewhere, Sebastien Lecornu has been promoted from minister for overseas territories to the defence ministry.

Elisabeth Borne also comes into the fold, a career bureaucrat who is now France’s Prime Minister.

The 61-year-old has spent much of her career in the shadows, but will now take the lead alongside Mr Macron in shaping France’s future.

In her acceptance speech, Ms Borne said: “I want to dedicate my nomination to all the little girls to tell them that nothing must hamper the fight for women’s place in society.”

Mr Macron is believed to have picked her as a way to appease the country’s left-leaning voters given her work with the Socialist Party.

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