Emmanuel Macron has warned that Boris Johnson’s government has to decide who its allies are, insisting that “half-friends is not a concept”.
“What politics does Great Britain wish to choose? It cannot be the best ally of the US, the best ally of the EU and the new Singapore … It has to choose a model,” the French president said, in an interview with the Guardian and a small group of other media.
“But I have the impression the country’s leaders have sold all these models [to the people]. If it decides on a completely transatlantic policy then we [the EU] will need clarification, because there will be divergence on rules and access to markets.
“If it decides to be the new Singapore, which it has once suggested … well, I don’t know. It’s not for me to decide, but I would like good, peaceful relations. Our destinies are linked, our intellectual approach is linked, our researchers and industrials work together … I believe in a sovereign continent and nation states; I don’t believe in neo-nationalism.
“I am for common ambition and a common destiny. I hope Boris Johnson is also on that path, because I think the British people are. We remain allies. History and geography don’t change, so I don’t think the British people have a different destiny to ours.”
Asked about the cross-Channel blame game over not just vaccines, but Brexit and coronavirus controls, in which he is often personally named, Macron laughed off the personal attacks: “Whenever there’s a problem with the EU, the British just love to detest the French – and me – and say we are responsible.
“I have accepted this role. Sometimes when there are tensions, I ask ‘Why me?’ – perhaps making me out to be more important than I am!”
On a more serious note, he added: “I like your country a lot, but as I have already said, I think Brexit is an error. I respect the sovereignty of the people and the people voted, so it had to be done, but I think that vote was based on a lot of lies and now we see it has made things much more difficult in many ways.”
Sitting in the ornate Salle des Fêtes at the Élysée Palace, under vast crystal chandeliers, Macron seemed preoccupied during the 90-minute meeting with a dozen journalists from US, Arab, European and UK media.
An earlier rendezvous with the president before Christmas had been called off at the last minute after he was diagnosed with Covid-19. Élysée staff said the president and his wife, Brigitte, who also caught the coronavirus, were “fully recovered”.
Macron spoke rapidly and without notes on a range of issues from French military intervention in the Sahel to conspiracy theories, France’s controversial law against religious separatism, and how France comes to terms with its colonial past.
One possible reason for being distracted was that Macron is expected to make an announcement this weekend about further coronavirus restrictions in France, which is already under a 12-hour nightly curfew. He was asked if he would be announcing a third national lockdown to stop the spread of new highly contagious variants, as predicted. It was the only question he refused to answer.
Macron said Europe will not block or ban exports of coronavirus vaccines but that they should be “controlled”, accusing AstraZeneca of a lack of transparency after the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company said it could not fulfil the whole of its contract with the EU.
He also said the AstraZeneca vaccine, given approval by the EU regulator on Friday for use on all adults, appeared to be “quasi-ineffective” on people older than 65, though he acknowledged he had no figures or official information.
The European Medicines Agency authorised the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for use in all adult age groups on Friday, after German authorities had earlier recommended that its use be limited to people under 65 due to a lack of a data about efficacy in older groups. The vaccine’s developers and regulators in the UK have strongly defended its efficacy in all groups.