Can we be best friends with France?

British plane damaged during the invasion of Suez, 1956 (picture Imperial War Museum)

This blog does not normally get excited over state visits, preferring supranational institutions to intergovernmental diplomacy. Institutions are based on rules, so people can be held to the decisions they have taken, as well as making possible some kind of openness and accountability too. The whole point of diplomacy, on the other hand, is that it exists in the absence of rules: it is about persuasion, not compulsion. It’s fine for governments, but not so fine for the parliaments and citizens who want to hold those governments to account.

Relations between member states of the EU are among the most institutionalised in the world, so a state visit from the president of France becomes even less interesting than one by the king of Saudi Arabia, for example. But the outpouring of criticism of France in the press needs some response.

Stephen Glover, in the Daily Mail, seeks to explain why we can never be best friends with France. He prefers the trans-Atlantic partnership with America, but on some very strange grounds. He writes that:

“When, 50 years ago, the British and French governments colluded over Suez, disregarding the United States, they landed flat on their faces.”

Well, they didn’t fall, they were tripped, by none other than the Americans. It was not an accident or an inevitable consequence of geopolitics, but a deliberate act by the Americans to assert their own interests over those of the Europeans.

This was characteristic, for the American republic has never been a friend of the British empire. See the contempt with which they have treated British sovereignty over Diego Garcia, using it as a base for their torture flights even though they knew that the British government forbade this practice.

The Americans were also quite happy to impose economic sanctions on the British steel industry, which were only lifted when the rest of Europe backed Britain in the demand for redress.

Now, whether or not what the Americans were doing was in the best interests of America is a question for another day (although you can probably guess the answer) but it is time for the British to see where their own interest lies, and it is not across the Atlantic at the expense of Europe.

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