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Political Update May 2021: travel restriction latest and assessment of bilateral relations

UK-France bilateral relations:


  • The UK has appointed a new Ambassador to France to take over from Ed Llewellyn at the end of summer. Menna Rawlings is an experienced career diplomat (unlike Llewellyn who was a political appointee) with experience in the European Commission as well as in Washington, the FCO’s Africa directorate and Tel Aviv. She undertook a year of French language training in advance of previous Francophone postings. Her appointment means that women will occupy all of the UK’s key diplomatic positions. The French Chamber will be reaching out to the new Ambassador once she is in post.
  • UK Trade Minister Greg Hands visited Paris earlier this month “to meet with strategic business partners and work with French counterparts to strengthen the trade relationship between the UK and France.” He visited French Chamber members Airbus and Capgemini, as well as a start-up campus. It was the Minister’s first visit since ministerial travel resumed, ahead of a trip to Munich the following week.
  • French Foreign Minister Jean Yves le Drian was in the UK for the G7 and met with counterpart Dominic Raab on the margins. The two discussed the importance of cooperation ahead of COP26, particularly on international climate finance and “the need to ensure ambitious action to replenish the Global Partnership for Education”. Both ministers “agreed on the strength of the UK-French partnership and discussed how they could work together to address shared concerns including climate change, vaccines supply and global health”, according to the FCO.
  • In the same week as the bilateral visits, the situation over fishing rights in Jersey escalated, leading to the Royal Navy sending in two vessels following a vague threat by the French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin to cut off Jersey’s electricity supply. For all of the war rhetoric, commentators noted that the two countries enjoy a strong and ‘brotherly’ bond that can withstand occasional incidents of this nature. Despite the significant amount of media attention given to these ‘diplomatic incidents’, the fundamentals of the bilateral relationship are stronger than the media portrayal suggests. The skirmish was not unhelpful for the Conservative Party, with headlines including “Boris sends gunboats into Jersey” on the morning of election day, and equally won’t have hurt Macron’s image as the Elysée already has one eye on next year’s elections. 
  • Another meeting on the margins of the G7 led to the UK finally granting full diplomatic precognition to the EU mission. The UK had previously declined to give João Vale de Almeida full diplomatic status and instead bestowed “diplomatic recognition”, which is one rung below. The British government’s approach had caused anger in Brussels, particularly as the EU representatives in each of its other 143 delegations around the world have full diplomatic status.
  • Home Secretary Priti Patel came under scrutiny when it emerged that EU nationals were being detained on arrival into the UK, many of them wrongly. These included a French national who was taken from Gatwick to Yarls Wood detention centre for seven days after being denied entry in February. Following a campaign by the Guardian, the Home Office announced a rule change last week allowing EU citizens stopped at the frontier to be granted bail, rather than detained, whilst awaiting their expulsion flight.


Covid travel status


France remained on the UK’s amber travel list, an ambiguous intermediate category whereby travel is possible but not encouraged. The next review of the UK list system is scheduled for 7th June, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps indicating that pace of vaccine rollout will be a key factor in deciding which countries are added. With a review expected roughly every three weeks, and Shapps pointing out that France is 6-8 weeks behind the UK in its vaccine programme, we might expect that it will be the following review, in the last week or June, that could see France upgraded.

The Indian variant taking hold in the UK is of concern to France and yesterday (26 May) it was announced that travellers from the UK will have to complete a mandatory 7- day quarantine period on arrival, in line with the most severe restrictions. The travel industry, which had been anticipating a relaxation of restriction as the main summer season approached, has already reacted strongly to the development. Brittany Ferries said in a statement that: “The unwelcome move by France to tighten travel restrictions is a direct consequence of the failure of the UK to put India on the red list”.


Coming up in June


The French Chamber will be launching our Franco-British business dashboard, in partnership with Ekimetrics , to measure the real impact the Brexit is having on cross-border trade and movement of workforce in the medium to long-term. The findings will inform and support our lobbying efforts as well as being a useful tool for our membership (and beyond) to track key metrics.

The deadline for French Nationals in the UK to apply for Settled Status (30th).

French Ambassador to the UK Catherine Colonna will speak at the French Chamber’s virtual AGM (24th) – make sure you register here.

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