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Britain's forever war with France - by Peter Franklin for Unherd

Peter Franklin whose own mother is French provides a personal perspective on the often strained relationship between the UK and her allies across the Channel.

Relations between the two countries are at an all-time low for reasons which are painfully obvious: the manner and timing of the UK’s departure from the EU, disputes on energy, fish and Covid vaccines, and lately and most seriously the diplomatic fallout from the AUKUS agreement and the implication for jobs and investment in the French defence industry.

“So while the temptation to wind-up a self-important popinjay like Macron may seem irresistible, Johnson must restrain himself. The trouble with humourless people is that they don’t get the joke — especially when it touches upon matters of national sensitivity. France was humiliated by Aukus and there’s been no meaningful gesture to make things right — least of all from Boris Johnson. But that’s symptomatic of the Anglo-French relationship in general. Neither country is even trying to understand the other. That has to change. It’s time for a new Entente Cordiale.”

The author provides a fascinating glimpse into the French psyche, deeply scarred even now by the memory of invasion and occupation in two world wars, which we in England have not experienced and would do well to appreciate:

“Beyond the outward divergences in language and culture, it’s hard to define the essential difference between the two nations. It is easier to feel than describe. But if I had to put it into words — in fact, one word — it would be tristesse. France, for all her enjoyment of the earthly pleasures, is a sad country.

The last time I visited my mother’s home town of Bar-le-Duc, in Lorraine, I happened upon a long-disused train station. Unconnected to the mainline from Paris, the reason for its existence was a mystery to me. But then I found out: the station served a single-track line that once carried French soldiers to the front at Verdun. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

The past lies heavily on France in a way it just doesn’t in England. The Republic’s borders are bloodstained, their violation a trauma to successive generations. Such differences in experience have shaped the character of the two nations, their sense of place and destiny. Which is why the Entente Cordiale — the conscious effort to “share an outlook upon the world” — was in some ways more ambitious than a mere alliance.”

Given the shift in geo-political structures around the world and the evident need for renewed vigilance in the West, the time has come to revive that shared outlook once again.

But for that to happen movement is needed on both sides; for France to stop being needlessly obstructive over Brexit and for the UK to re-integrate the French into a common strategic alliance with the Five Eyes to make it Six. Only then and with an Anglo-French Entente at its core will the Western Alliance provide a credible strategic deterrent to its enemies around the world.

The full article can be read here with a link to the original beneath it:

Britain's forever war with France by Peter Franklin for UnHerd 05.11.21
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