By the start of his second year in office, the 5ft 5in former French president Nicolas Sarkozy had perfected his favourite trick of waiting for foreign leaders on the second step of the Elysee Palace. This was so that they would step out of the limousine and find themselves meeting him eyeball to eyeball, as opposed to eyeball to the gap above his head.
If Emmanuel Macron has ever been tempted to repeat the trick, then the first France-UK summit in five years would not have been the occasion. The snappers and the body-language experts confer great meaning to those fresh-out-of-the-limo handshakes, and on this occasion, with neither the French nor the British leader troubling the tape measure beyond the 5ft 7in mark, it had been feared that the entire thing might occur in a kind of semi-secrecy, concealed in its entirety by the car door itself.
In the end, they needn’t have worried. No car door could possibly have hidden the Anglo-French love-in. It went on for hours. Politicians are never shy to place their hands on one another. Rewatch the old footage from G8 summits, as they were then known, and you could be forgiven for imagining that you were watching a documentary about the surgical separation planned for conjoined twins called George W Bush and Vladimir Putin.
The problem is that the French and British leaders have both been to Touching School. The young Macron was an investment banker at Rothschild, Sunak at Goldman Sachs. Both of these places actively school their young recruits in such things as always being the last person to enter a room, always being the last person to speak, and, wherever possible, softening the hearts of potential clients through the laying on of hands.
Their joint press conference lasted 45 minutes. If it had happened during the pandemic, when social distancing rules still applied, one doubts it would have lasted half that time. On three separate occasions, the two men embraced each other in a style not seen on television since hitherto unknown family members were introduced to one another by Cilla Black.
Sunak looked delighted that he is going to be taken seriously on the world stage, for quite possibly all of the year and a half or so for which he will occupy it. He is riding high off his success in Northern Ireland, and appears to have convinced himself that his new way – of cooperation, and working together – is somehow going to rehabilitate the reputation of his country in the eyes of a world that really does still think Britain’s gone mad.
Macron smiled too, but unfortunately for Sunak, he is not encumbered with the unbearable burden of revealing that he is too good to be true. “A lot of the problems we have now are the consequences of the Brexit,” he said. “But now we have to fix the consequences.”
The new age of cooperation, of collaboration, is only going to involve mass delusion on this side of the Channel. It’s not clear whether Sunak thinks he can just smile through all of this, whether his public-school head boy persona will be sufficient to disguise the hell of the last seven years. All of the warnings, he thought better of. And all of the problems he generously likes to think of himself as solving are his own fault.
Macron, meanwhile, was not exactly smiling, but laughing – all the way to the bank. Sunak had made great fanfare of the deal that the two countries had struck on migrants, even while Macron kept repeating that any meaningful deal would have to be struck not with him, but with the European Union.
Sunak didn’t mention, at least not out loud, that the cost of the deal had been £480m. That’s a direct payment, from the UK to France, to persuade them to try harder to stop the boats from leaving.
There will, apparently, be more detention centres, and more “technology” will be used to stop the boats. Of course, no one likes a cynic, especially not one who might point out that, as it stands, we have already given Rwanda £120m, up front, in cash, and in return its representatives have quietly pointed out that the greatest number of asylum seekers they can currently cope with is 200 – and so far, exactly none have been sent.
Still, just after the two men finished speaking, the big news landed, and that’s that Gary Lineker won’t be presenting Match of the Day on Saturday. He’s not had to pay the BBC any money at all for that one. There’s not even been any kind of £800k loan involved. Best take your wins where you can find them.
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