Les rodomontades de Boris Johnson: How the French see us

You won’t find too many fans of Boris Johnson in France. He is regarded as “a greedy pig who kidnapped our vaccine doses”. My sister-in-law commiserated with those of us in the UK who aren’t fans either, saying “You’ve got fascism. We’re getting it next year with Marine le Pen”.

Great. Just what we need… a growing network of far-right dictators pursuing their nationalist agendas. I’m still bitterly angry about my loss of freedom of movement, though, even if France succumbs to the tidal wave of xenophobia and authoritarianism. I would have loved to live in the Languedoc…

Anyway, what do the French and Belgian media have to say about the jolly old UK and its recent follies and folie de grandeur?

On the vaccination squabble, France inter ran a story on 31 March with this headline: Covid: sans l’UE, la vaccination au Royaume-Uni n’aurait pas été si rapide. (Covid: without the EU, the UK would not be vaccinating so quickly) and goes on to highlight Johnson’s crowing over the UK’s superior vaccination rate and not balking at “welcoming with open arms millions of doses of European product (20 m Pfizer, 1m AZ) sent by the very same EU that it so loves to criticise. “[The UK has exported zero doses to the EU]. The view of Johnson as boastful, emphasising vaccine success to hide the UK’s death toll, extends across all the main newspapers and Le Monde is not alone in stating “The UK’s success is not all about its efficiency in rolling out the vaccine. It owes a debt of gratitude to the EU.” Neither the French nor the EU are holding their breath…

On Brexit, here’s Le Monde on 16 March: Après le Brexit, “une guerrilla réglementaire permanente entre Londres et Bruxelles” (roughly: After Brexit, a permanent guerrilla regulation war between London and Brussels) Highlighting the dramatic fall in exports to the EU, Le Monde comments that, in January, things in Britain have gone pretty much as people warned: relatively badly. Not a catastrophe because there was still food on supermarket shelves and the massive lorry tailbacks had not materialised. But… the Amsterdam stock exchange had ousted London from its number one spot and the crumbling of trade relations between London and Brussels had begun. “Les plaques tectoniques ont commence à s’éloigner” (The tectonic plates have started to move apart). Le Monde goes on to write about the shellfish debacle but the full horror of this tale of fisherfolk betrayed by their government is behind a paywall. Mercifully.

Here’s OuestFrance’s ‘Point of View’ section: “Brexit: des années bien incertaines à venir…” (“Brexit: seriously uncertain years ahead”) by Professor Pauline Schnapper from the Sorbonne, examining the impact of the deal signed on Christmas Eve and speculating that the break-up of the Union looks like a meaningful risk. She also points out that Johnson’s refusal to discuss foreign policy and defence with the EU has lost the UK influence in Brussels, and finishes by saying that our vague notions of becoming Global Britain with a focus on our traditional allies and the Indo-Pacific region is “a goal which is at risk of colliding with the blow to the economy from Brexit-induced isolation.”

And what about those famous ‘expats’ as so many insist on calling themselves. Les Echos, 31 March: “Brexit: le blues des Anglais de Dordogne”, which needs no translation! “More than 7,500 Britons have made the Dordogne their home sweet home and this department of the South-West the most English of France. Most of them did not want a break between their country and the European Union. Now that the divorce is over, they have to face a host of annoyances (“une ribambelle de tracasseries…” such delicious French! ) and inconveniences that make their daily lives more difficult.”

It’s the largest ‘colony’ of Brits after Paris and many of the residents are still feeling tricked and cheated after being prevented from voting in the referendum by the fifteen-year rule. The paper quotes Roger Ringwood, 64, who describes Brexit as

“A crazy decision, brought about by a combination of racism, ignorance and rejection of immigration.”

There follows a series of heart-breaking tales of long-term residents jumping through the regulatory hoops imposed by the UK’s self-inflicted third country status and expressing anxiety about their British pensions. One story is particularly poignant – a 49-year-old carpenter who was refused citizenship first time around because he was deemed to have insufficient resources. He pointed out that he has never been out of work or claimed income support, was himself conceived in France and four kids, all French. 35,000 people have signed a petition demanding he be granted citizenship.

It’s a really good round up of human stories bringing the pain of Brexit to poignant life.

We need to remember, too, that this government has put hundreds of thousands of EU citizens through the same stressful process here… made doubly unpleasant by Brexit’s racist overtones.

France3 TV had an interesting piece on the impact of Brexit on thoroughbred horse breeders in Normandy, with all the extra red tape and regulations prompting a letter to Ursula Von der Leyen from the region’s MEP Stephanie Yon-Courtin of RenewEurope.

One of the directors of a large stud said that Brexit meant that the UK was not only making transport difficult but also piling on the form-filling. It looks like the end of improving bloodlines by sending mares and stallions to the UK and vice versa. Travel costs have gone up two or three times and the whole process takes an extra week. Breeders are put off – and who can blame them? It’s bad news for both sides of the channel. Given this government’s close connections to racing, this may be an area where MPs will feel the heat. We shall see.

The Connexion, which is in English, ran this headline on 31 March: Brexit: “Au pairs from France will not be sent to UK in 2021.”

“French au pair agencies are organising no placements in the UK this year as there is no longer any recognised status for au pairs post full-Brexit. The UK was formerly the top choice”

The head of European and international matters at the Centre d’information et de documentation jeunesse (CIDJ), Valérie Montembault, said: “The problem is there is no au pair status provided for in the UK’s new immigration rules and if you go for less than six months [without a visa] you have no right to work.

“So, the agencies are not sending any more au pairs to the UK. They are sending some to the Netherlands, a few to Malta maybe, but none to the UK.

Hmm. We really have not done ourselves any favours, have we? No more Jules or Juliette to teach little Oliver and Olivia quelque mots en Français.

Finally, Arcuri/Johnson: The BBC and the mainstream media may be too scared to run the story, but not so Sudinfo.be. 29 March saw them run a story with this lurid headline: “Scandale au Royaume-Uni, une maîtresse de Boris Johnson fait des révélations explosives: “Nous avons couché ensemble dans la maison de sa famille” Scandal in the UK – a Johnson mistress’s explosive revelations: “We slept together in the family home.”

No mention of the £126,000 of taxpayers’ money which found its way into her coffers, but, hey, the Belgians love a bit of a sex scandal. It livens things up a bit!

So, there you have it for now. Looks like the perspective on the UK matches that of any rational Brit! We have more in common than that which divides us and the sooner we get back where we belong with our European friends and neighbours, the better!