Macron and Sunak’s ‘bromance’ signals intention to restore Franco-British ties | Rishi Sunak

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When Emmanuel Macron rushed to kiss the new British Prime Minister during their first meeting in Egypt this week, some called it a “bromance”.

Even though the French president‘s direct embrace of world leaders is almost always called a “bromance” – from Justin Trudeau to Mohammed bin Salman and Donald Trump (a relationship that eventually soured), Macron’s smiles and slaps and Rishi Sunak stood out. as symbolic.

There is a clear wish in Paris to unfreeze and reset the icy Franco-British relationship, which had plummeted to its worst state in decades under Boris Johnson, with bitter disputes over submarine contracts, fishing rights and disputes over who was to blame for the catastrophic deaths of people trying to reach the British coast in small boats.

A French official described the potential for improved relations: “We clearly had our differences, each of us was sometimes held hostage by the internal politics of the two countries, but in the end, the strategic interests of France are very very aligned with the United Kingdom… The British are not always easy but absolutely essential partners. The quality of the exchanges in recent weeks has been positive.

Macron and Sunak share commonalities in their backgrounds and political journeys. Both are the eldest sons of doctors – Sunak’s father was an NHS family doctor and his mother ran a pharmacy, Macron’s father was a neurologist and his mother a pediatrician.

Both leaders attended top graduate schools and worked as investment bankers, moving quickly from the private sector to leading economics ministries. While in these ministries, they each had a sort of insider-outsider status that would eventually lead them to overtake their bosses. Macron became frustrated with the limited appetite for free-market reform of his socialist mentor, Francois Hollande, eventually betraying him by breaking and running as a maverick for president. Sunak’s resignation as Chancellor was seen as a key factor in Johnson’s resignation.

They are almost the same age. Macron, who became France’s youngest modern leader at 39, is now 44 and in his second term. Sunak, 42, went from MP to prime minister in just seven years – faster than any other prime minister in the modern era.

The label of ‘rich’ also hangs over them in a tricky way – Sunak has a multi-million pound fortune with his wife, far beyond that of Macron, but the French president has been unable to shake off the label of his detractors as “president of the rich”. ” since the transformation of wealth tax in France. Both have been accused of being cut off from the daily lives of voters. They wear similar, stylish navy suits. French media call Sunak “well-dressed”, although Le Monde deemed his suits “too tight”.

But one crucial difference is Brexit – with Sunak a staunch supporter of leaving the EU in 2016 and Macron a fervent pro-EU.

“They were compared to each other even before Sunak became prime minister, because in both their countries they represent a kind of golden elite – well-educated, upper-middle-class success stories,” said Sylvie Matelly, deputy director of France. Institute of International and Strategic Affairs. “They were both people who were not predestined to become great politicians and who were closer to business and banking.”

Matelly said there was a wish for “calm” in relations between the UK and France, with France seeing “no interest in isolating the UK”. But a lot would depend on Sunak and his stance on Northern Ireland protocol.

The two leaders’ first meeting was a far cry from Johnson’s war of words telling France “give me a break” and France viewing Johnson as a populist, or Sunak’s short-lived predecessor Liz Truss refusing to say whether Macron was friend or foe. as he ran for the Conservative leadership.

Elvire Fabry, research fellow at the Jacques Delors Institute, said: “What is encouraging in what we have seen in recent days is the general tone, there has been no provocation on either side. ‘other. What is striking between Sunak and Macron is the same desire to focus on major issues and avoid peripheral conflicts.

She said their approach to the issue of small craft in the Channel suggested more pragmatism and “less of a register of mutual blame”. But the question of the Northern Ireland protocol remained the most complex issue and “a big unknown”.

She said there were similarities “in the way they broke into politics coming from the world of finance and the private sector”, and that they spoke “the same geo-economic language”, but they shared potentially the weakness of appearing “less grounded”. in the sociological reality” of their country, and having to make an extra effort to pay attention to the street and to popular opinion.

Macron invited Sunak to a Paris conference on Ukraine on December 13. The two leaders are preparing a joint Franco-British summit next year and will also work on Iran, the energy crisis and energy supplies for the winter, as well as the climate crisis and the question of small boats in the Channel.

French daily Liberation still sees Sunak as ‘a resolute Thatcherian’ and ‘a supporter of Brexit and austerity’ – ‘Truss gone, Thatcher stays’, the paper said.

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