‘My hopes for UK-French relationship after Brexit’
We must remain hopeful for a good future Franco-British relationship despite current uncertainties, says the co-editor of a new book featuring testimonies from professionals and academics who have insight into the ties between the two countries.
Elizabeth Gibson-Morgan, law lecturer at Bordeaux and Tours universities, said: “The idea was to feature people who could use their personal testimonies and experience to talk about the relationship from a very pragmatic point of view.
“We have tried to give a positive message because nowadays there are many fears and uncertainties about the countries, but there is hope beyond Brexit that the relationship will last.
“The UK and France have more in common and more to gain in remaining friends beyond Brexit.”
UK and France: Friends or Foes? places Brexit in the context of Franco-British relations.
The writers range from an admiral who works with the French embassy in London to Welsh author, historian and Labour peer Lord Morgan and the former chairman of the bar of England and Wales.
Subjects covered include the entente cordiale in 1904 as well as Churchill’s relations with De Gaulle and the potential Brexit impacts on such diverse issues as defence and security cooperation and Erasmus.
Good relations today are to a large extent thanks to the rapport between Edward Heath and Georges Pompidou in the 1970s, said Dr Gibson-Morgan.
“That did a lot to bring our countries closer. And it is interesting that our current president was eager to develop a good relationship with the UK.
“He has appeared to be very firm over Brexit but he has tried to encourage the UK to stay in the EU, and it was significant that before being elected he went to Britain and met Theresa May.”
Differences in outlook between Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson have created difficulties, she said.
“But whatever happens, we need to work to rebuild a strong relationship,” including on military cooperation and sharing intelligence.
New bilateral agreements will be vital, she said.
It is also important to consider also the bonds between the UK’s individual nations and France.
“We tend to focus on England but what is also interesting is moves not only on behalf of Scotland but also Wales, to develop a good relationship with the European Union,” she added.
“Scotland has set up a Scottish hub in Paris to have their own relationship and in Wales there are interesting developments.
“The relationship with Wales goes right back to the Pennal Letter [when Owain Glyndŵr, a 15th century Welsh rebel against the English, wrote to the French king about his plan for an independent Wales].”
Dr Gibson-Morgan is Scottish-Swiss and describes herself as a natural European. She sees Brexit as “a move backwards”.
“I’ll go on to the end hoping there is a will to get out of this,” she said.
“But whatever happens, strong efforts must be made to reconcile communities, families and the nations forming the UK.
“As an academic, I believe especially in the young. The great majority of young Britons are pro-EU,” she said.
Brexit risks having a destabilising effect on Europe, including on countries like France where President Macron has faced his own domestic difficulties [such as the gilet jaunes protests], she said. He also knows that he may no longer be able to rely on Angela Merkel as a strong partner in the EU, she said.
“There is also the question of Britain as a strategic partner, on defence and security.
“That is essential in terms of sharing intelligence and military cooperation, as Macron said at the Sandhurst summit with Theresa May.”
Dr Gibson-Morgan said she still holds out hope the UK will not leave. “I am a natural European and was born with two nationalities.
“I see Brexit as a move backwards. The EU is not a prison, it is a union of sovereign countries and I will go on to the end hoping there is a will to get out of this. But whatever happens strong efforts will have to be made, to reconcile communities and families and the nations forming the UK.”
UK and France: Friends or Foes?, priced at €31.90, is published by Hachette Livre.