Macron ‘scapegoating’ Britain because he fears Le Pen and Zemmour threat

Eric Zemmour points gun at reporters during an arms fair

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But he also suggested ultimately, the real threat may come from another source – Xavier Bertrand of the centre-right Republicans’ party. The French President is facing a battle to win a second term – and Dr Joseph Downing believes he is playing up his nationalistic and populist credentials in an attempt to shore up support, not least with some of his comments about fishing access for French vessels.

Mr Macron has reeled off a series of antagonistic remarks in recent weeks with have raised the temperature between Britain and France, including one diatribe in which he claimed: “When you spend years negotiating a treaty and then a few months later you do the opposite of what was decided on the aspects that suit you the least, it is not a big sign of your credibility.”

Acknowledging Mr Macron’s tendency to use the UK as a “convenient scapegoat”, Dr Downing, a Visiting Fellow at the LSE’s European Institute, told “One of the most worrying trends in French politics for about half a decade is the rise of Eric Zemmour.

“If you look at the recent polls show, Zemmour is on about 18 or 19 percent and Marine Le Pen is on about 17 percent and Macron is on about 25 percent.

“So you don’t have to be an astronaut to work out that if you combine those two votes it’s a problem for Macron.”

Mr Macron, who has had to contend with criticism of his Covid strategy and Yellow Vest protests during his Presidency, was “definitely concerned” about domestic issues, Dr Downing stressed.

He said: “For me, this is part of the continuum from the separatism bill where he attacked Muslim NGOs in mosques, which to me, is like a conception of terrorism that is 20 years out of date.

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“And I think this is what he’s doing now, ie using the world stage to try to show he is not afraid to push French interests and won’t back down from a confrontation and stuff.

“Because truthfully, I mean, both in the British and the French context, fishing is not a hugely important issue economically – it worth almost less than one percent of GDP.

“But it’s hugely symbolic. And also with this whole thing, there is a point where he sees himself as a future mover and shaker on the European stage.”

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Dr Downing explained: “He said a couple of times, that the EU needs to make sure that it’s clear that leaving has consequences and makes you suffer.

There was also an element of anti-English sentiment, he added, pointing out: “It’s kind of like going back to 300 years.

“You’ve even got the Scots making overtures to the French about independence.”

Explaining Mr Macron’s nationalist pivot, Dr Downing added: “He can’t go full-on Marine Le Pen populist but he can try and co-opt the floating voters.

“The key to this, the key to this entire election is the centre-right.

“Because if somebody can take votes from him and the far-right it will be somebody like Xavier Bertrand.

“He doesn’t seem to have that public presence yet but he is relatable and likeable and there is a bit of the Boris Johnson about the guy.

“He is not chaotic but he has that slightly unpolished edge.

“Macron is a bit too robotic I think, a bit too much like Tony Blair.”

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