What did Liz Truss say about Emmanuel Macron? ‘Jury is out’ comment and UK-France relations explained

Liz Truss said she would judge Emmanuel Macron on ‘deeds not words’

Liz Truss has said the “jury’s out” on if French President Emmanuel Macron is a “friend or foe”.

The Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership hopeful was speaking to Tory members at a leadership hustings in Norwich on Thursday.

However, her comments have proved to be controversial with concerns it could risk worsening diplomatic relations

It comes as a number of issues have affected the UK and France 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. While Brexit has also impacted on relations.

But what did Liz Truss say, how have people reacted, and what has Macron said in response?

Liz Truss said the “jury’s out” on if the French president is a “friend or foe”.

What did Liz Truss say?

Both the Foreign Secretary and her 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 Mr Sunak had quickly answered “friend” when asked the same question.

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.

“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 a project 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.”

What has Boris Johnson said about the UK’s relationship with France?

Outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Emmanuel Macron is a “tres bon buddy” of the UK.

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to South West London Elective Orthopaedic Centre in Surrey, the Prime Minister was asked about Liz Truss’s comments about the French president.

Mr Johnson said: “I think I’ve always had very good relations with Emmanuel Macron. Emmanuel Macron est un tres bon buddy de notre pays.”

He added: “I think the relations between the UK and France are of huge importance. They have been very good for a long time, ever since the Napoleonic era basically, and I think we should celebrate that.

“As for Emmanuel, I’ve had very good relations with him and I can tell you something: he’s a great, great fan of our country.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President of France Emmanuel Macron during a ‘quad’ meeting at the G7 summit on June 28, 2022.

What has the reaction been?

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

Former Conservative minister Gavin Barwell also questioned the remark, tweeting: “You would have thought the Foreign Secretary was aware we are in a military alliance with France.”

The German ambassador to the UK also warned that the relationship with France is of “crucial importance”.

Miguel Berger, appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, said: “I would say that the relationship with France is of crucial importance for the United Kingdom, so my recommendation would be really to look for a relationship that is as close as possible.”

Pressed on whether Ms Truss’s comments were wise, he said: “The relationship with France should be as close as possible.

“I think there needs to be an effort to reach a good understanding and cooperation with our French neighbours.”

The Guardian reported Nathalie Loiseau, a former French Europe minister who now chairs the European parliament’s EU-UK partnership assembly, said: “From a future leader, one expects leadership. And from a future stateswoman, one expects statesmanship. Her remarks fell into neither category.”

The newspaper reported she said the comments would do nothing to improve Anglo-French relations, but added: “For years now, France has applied in its dealings with the UK a motto that we owe to you: Keep calm and carry on.”

Meanwhile, Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi has defended Liz Truss over her comments about the French President Emmanuel Macron, calling them “light-hearted”.

“It was clearly said as a light-hearted comment with a touch of humour,” Mr Zahawi said.

“Stating the obvious, France is one of our closest strategic allies in defence and security, of course, in our effort to face down Putin in his illegal invasion of a free and democratic country in Ukraine,” the Chancellor added.

“We like people to judge us on our actions, on our deeds, not words. And I think it is right that we also hold our allies to that very high standard.”

Has Macron responded?

Emmanuel Macron, who is currently on an official visit to Algeria was asked his views on the “jury’s out” comment.

After a long pause he told FranceInfo: “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.

“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.

“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. 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 .”