'Problem' if UK cannot tell if France is friend or foe, says Macron after Truss comment

Emmanuel Macron said France is determined to remain 'friends' with the UK 'in spite of its leaders and the little mistakes they might make,' Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports

French President Emmanuel Macron has suggested it is a “problem” if Britain cannot call itself a friend of France, amid an unexpected diplomatic row sparked by comments made by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss during Thursday night's leadership hustings.

The French premier said that he believed the UK was a “friend” despite what the foreign secretary might suggest, after Ms Truss told Tory members at the hustings in Norwich on Thursday that she was undecided as to whether the French leader was “friend or foe”.

Mr Macron, asked his views on the comments on Friday, responded after a long pause: “Listen, it’s never good to lose your bearings too much in life. If one asks the question – which is how I will answer you – whoever is considered for the leadership in Great Britain, I won’t ponder it for a single second.

Liz Truss said the ‘jury is out’ on whether Emmanuel Macron is a friend or foe Credit: Yves Herman/PA

“The United Kingdom is a friend of France, and you know we live in a complicated world, there are more and more liberals, authoritarian democracies, so there is a sense of imbalance,” he told FranceInfo.

“If the French and British are not capable of saying whether we are friends or enemies – the term is not neutral – we are going to have a problem," he added.

“So yes of course the British people, the nation which is the United Kingdom, is a friend, strong and allied, whoever its leaders are and sometimes in spite of the leaders and the small mistakes they can make in their speeches.”

When asked the same question after Ms Truss's comment, Boris Johnson said he had always had "very good relations with the French President, adding: "Emmanuel Macron est un très bon buddy," (Emmanuel Macron is a very good buddy).

Ms Truss was accused of “playing to the gallery” and risking worsened diplomatic relations across the channel after she said the “jury’s out” on Mr Macron.

A number of issues have affected UK-France relations in recent months, including boat crossings in the Channel and travel chaos around Dover, which Ms Truss blamed on a lack of staffing by the French authorities.

Both the foreign secretary and her leadership rival candidate Rishi Sunak were asked a series of quickfire questions at the Norwich hustings.

TalkTV’s Julia Hartley-Brewer, the event host, asked Ms Truss: “President Macron, friend or foe?”

“The jury’s out,” she responded, to loud applause.

“But if I become prime minister, I would judge him on deeds, not words.”

The former chancellor had quickly answered “friend” when asked the same question.

Rishi Sunak and leadership rival Liz Truss Credit: Ben Birchall/Clodagh Kilcoyne/PA

Labour warned that the comment, which could be seen to risk straining tensions with France, showed a “terrible and worrying lack of judgment”.

Opposition MP Chris Bryant questioned the remark on Twitter, writing: "You what? You’re the foreign secretary. France is a NATO ally!"

Former Conservative minister Gavin Barwell tweeted: “You would have thought the foreign secretary was aware we are in a military alliance with France”.

Elsewhere in the hustings, Ms Truss conceded that if it were a choice between relying on France or China for nuclear expertise, she would pick France.

Taking questions in front of an audience of Tory members, she said: “I’m very clear that we need to boost our nuclear industry including Sizewell, including the small modular reactors that are produced in Derbyshire.

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“Frankly, I would rather that we do have more homegrown nuclear expertise, and regrettably we lost that because we failed to do these things 20 years ago, or 30 years ago.

“If it’s a choice between relying on France and relying on China, I would take France.”

It comes after Ms Truss distanced the UK from the prospect of being part of a wider European political community following a meeting between Boris Johnson and the French president in June.

The Elysee Palace insisted that the prime minister had expressed interest in the idea, which would see non-EU states such as the UK involved.

Ms Truss denied the UK had ever been on board with such a proposal, saying afterwards: “That is not true.

“I don’t know the exact words that President Macron has used, but we have not agreed to that.”

Asked whether she bought into “his political and economic community”, she replied: “No.”

In July, she said delays to the journeys of holidaymakers near Dover were the fault of French authorities and had been “entirely avoidable”.

However a French politician blamed Brexit for the chaos.

Pierre-Henri Dumont, Republican MP for Calais, said the problems at the Kent port would reoccur, telling BBC News: “This is an aftermath of Brexit. We have to run more checks than before.”