PARIS: Boris Johnson will travel to France to meet French President Emmanuel Macron in the next few weeks, French officials said Friday, while warning the new British premier against “posturing” and “provocations”.
The 41-year-old French leader, who has said he is happy to be considered the “bad guy” in the Brexit negotiations, is set to be a key figure during the tricky and potentially bad-tempered talks in the months ahead.
Macron extended the invitation to Johnson in a call late Thursday from his official summer vacation residence in the south of France, the fort of Bregancon, where he is expected to stay for the next three weeks, said an aide.
But in a sign of wariness in France about Johnson’s anti-EU rhetoric, France’s Europe Minister Amelie de Montchalin urged Britain’s new leader to work on creating a working relationship with his partners on the continent.
“From our side, we need to be responsible,” she told France 2 television.
“That means being clear, predictable and it means on the other side that we need to create a working relationship, that there aren’t games, posturing, provocations.”
The timing of the meeting between Macron and Johnson was unclear.
The British prime minister is due in France to attend the G7 meeting of developed nations in Biarritz on August 24-26.
“In any case, we want to work with him and we need to,” Montchalin added.
Last year, Macron broke away from his time off to host then British prime minister Theresa May as she sought new concessions in her ultimately doomed bid to bring Britain out of the European Union.
In their conversation, Macron congratulated Johnson on becoming prime minister and emphasised his desire for close Franco-British ties, the presidential official said, reflecting his hope for a strong defence and economic relationship post-Brexit.
But they steered clear of the vexed subject of Britain’s departure from the bloc, the aide added, agreeing that the issue would be discussed in the next few weeks.
Macron, a devoted Europhile who is seeking to deepen links between EU members, views Brexit as an act of self-harm by Britain and he has been highly critical of Johnson personally in the past.
Johnson insists he wants to renegotiate a divorce deal which was drafted by his predecessor May over the last two years, only to see it rejected by British MPs three times in parliament.
But the EU has already said it will not reopen the negotiations on the terms of Britain’s departure.
Johnson has staked his reputation on bringing Britain out of the EU by the current October 31 deadline, meaning that if new negotiations are refused the UK would crash out without a deal in place.
Both Britain and the European Union are now set to accelerate preparations for this scenario, which economists say would have major economic repercussions.
“No deal will never be the EU’s choice, but we all have to be ready for all scenarios,” the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, wrote in an email sent to EU ambassadors on Thursday.
Barnier also noted the “combative” tone of Johnson’s first speech as premier in parliament on Thursday.
“In this negotiation, if we want to force Boris Johnson’s hand, we need to prepare for no-deal and show that we’re not scared,” a European diplomat said on condition of anonymity on Thursday.
“He needs to know that we are ready for a no-deal.”
Johnson on Thursday told British lawmakers that the current deal on the table was “unacceptable” and he urged the EU to “rethink” its opposition to renegotiating it.
The former foreign secretary has also threatened to withhold the 39 billion pound (USD 49 billion divorce bill that Britain has previously said it owes the European Union and spend it instead on preparing for a no-deal outcome.