The Brief: Best of enemies gird loins for Brexit battle

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France and Britain have always been the best of enemies.  And with the Brexit talks looming, it looks like old habits die hard (at least on London’s side of the Channel).

Back in the depths of history, when the British wanted to have a quick war, they tended to pick the French. If the French fancied a battle, they usually rode out to tackle the Brits.

“The best thing I know between France and England is the sea,” the nineteenth century wit Donald Jerrold joked. The French dubbed England la perfide Albion in the same time period.

Admiral Nelson, who defeated the French navy at Trafalgar, would tell his sailors, “You must hate a Frenchman as you hate the devil.”

The more swivel-eyed Eurosceptics see the EU as a mutation of Napoleon’s dreams of continental domination.

The flames of hatred have waxed and waned over the years but it looks like hostilities are set to be renewed for the first time since Mad Cow Disease and General de Gaulle’s veto of Britain’s entry to the common market.

An aide to Conservative MP Mark Field was spotted carrying a memo revealing the government’s secret Brexit strategy was to “have cake and eat it” too.

Long-lens cameras captured a few more lines of the memo, revealing a worried note about the EU’s “very French negotiating team” – a reference to Commission negotiator Michel Barnier.

The French are “most likely to be difficult”, the note reads, “services harder – because French hoping for business”.

Paris has long eyed London’s crown as Europe’s pre-eminent financial hub, and the crafty Frogs are keen to get their hands on the Rosbif’s services sector.

Will the UK manage to eat the whole cake or be forced to scarf down pungent French after-dinner cheese?

The battle lines are drawn. The barricades are being built.

It’s time for Round God-knows-what between two opponents who love fighting each other so much they fought the Hundred Years War. Plus ça change…


The Scottish government sent out a press release today demanding that Brexit not be allowed to rob Dundee of the chance to be European City of Culture 2023. We’re not sure that is top of Theresa May’s to-do list at the moment, especially as the UK faces another legal battle over Brexit and the UK’s single market membership.

Britain agreed to the new EU patent system yesterday. Lucy Neville-Rolfe, the UK minister for intellectual property, said the country would still play by the rules “as long as we are members of the EU”. Maybe she expects Brexit talks to drag on for a long time? Poland wants the Brexit talks to take a long time – or not happen at all.

Outspoken Eurosceptic Anders Samuelsen became Denmark’s new foreign minister. Samuelsen told reporters “I have not changed my attitude overnight towards the EU”.

François Fillon, the newly-christened centre-right candidate in next year’s French presidential election, has a less clear take on Europe. He might like common EU rules on migration, but he’s also toyed with the prospect of taking France out of the European Court of Human Rights. Putin seems to think Fillon might be the magic ticket for ending sanctions against Russia.

The Netherlands has today approved a partial burka ban. Anyone wearing something that covers their face on public transport, government offices, public schools or hospitals will face a €405 fine. EU officials, if you are interested, can wear a burka to work if they so wish.

EU tax chief Pierre Moscovici said there will likely be a deal this week regarding Greece’s fiscal plans for next year. There will have to be agreement on Athens’ 2017 budget before talks can start on much needed debt relief to pick up the Greek economy.

Donald Trump and Brexit have caused economic uncertainty, European Central Bank boss Mario Draghi told MEPs yesterday.

Switzerland is reworking treaties which set out its relationship with the EU.


Weighing in at more than 1,000 pages, the Commission’s Winter Package of new energy rules will drop with an almighty thud tomorrow.  If you simply can’t wait that long, take a look at our coverage of the package so far. The package will subsidise fossil fuels, set up a battle on energy efficiency, and leave some doubts over Europe’s energy future.

Views are the author’s and not our sponsor’s. 

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