Since Boris gained his 80-strong majority in the Commons, a chasm has opened up between what the French reckoned they would be able to extract from Britain in the post-Brexit EU negotiations and what Emmanuel Macron will now prioritise.
A number of other events have also chastened the French (and Brussels) beyond the election result, such as: Boris’s decision to legislate for no extension to the transition period; the Government’s rejection of Lord’s amendments to the Withdrawal bill; the Chancellor’s message that the nation’s interests come before British business; Washington’s commitment to seal a trade deal with Britain by the end of the year; and London’s decision to begin parallel trade negotiations with the EU and the US, Japan and Australia. The tables have turned. To misquote Macron’s 2017 boast: ‘Britain is back’. We are now a country mile from Le Monde’s excoriating doomsday editorial after Boris won the Conservative party leadership contest. The patronising tone has evaporated.
So what will be the French negotiating position?
Macron’s main political aim is foreign and security policy. While trade negotiations and international politics are not usually directly inter-meshed at the negotiating table, only the naive believe they are truly kept apart – quid pro quo predates Donald Trump, after all. International relations theorists have even coined a phrase for it: ‘issue linkage bargaining strategy’. Michel Barnier’s negotiating team has its mandate, but you can expect the impatient and forceful Macron to press ruthlessly behind the scenes for the EU to make concessions to Britain in the French interest. In exchange Macron will want concessions from Britain, either via the EU, or outside of it bilaterally through foreign and security policy.
Despite Macron’s pro-Europeanism, he knows a European martial spirit or meaningful collective foreign policy does not, and will not, exist in the near future.