Tory leadership frontrunner Liz Truss said the “jury is out” on whether Emmanuel Macron is a “friend or foe” during the penultimate hustings event, which took place in Norwich on Thursday.
TalkTV’s Julia Hartley-Brewer asked Truss the question directly during a quick-fire round, with the foreign secretary’s “scathing” response – as The Express described it – receiving a round of applause. “But,” Truss added, over the clapping, “if I become PM, I’ll hold him to deeds, not words.”
Earlier in the evening, Truss’s rival, former chancellor Rishi Sunak, had described the French president as a “friend”. Last month, The Spectator’s Gavin Mortimer had predicted that Anglo-French relations could improve with Sunak in No. 10, describing them as “similar in many ways beyond their background in finance; presentable and polished but, so say their detractors, ideologically shallow”.
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Truss’s divisive comments at the Norwich hustings were criticised for adding “further tensions to the stormy Anglo-French relationship”, said Politico, pointing out that links between the two countries have deteriorated “badly” since Britain voted to leave the EU in 2016.
Labour “pounced” on Truss’s “diplomatic faux pas”, added Politico. “Liz Truss using the last weeks of her leadership campaign to insult the president of one of Britain’s closest allies shows a woeful lack of judgement,” said Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy on Twitter.
Former foreign minister Alistair Burt tweeted that the strong favourite to become PM had made a “desperately serious error” and should “take back” her comments.
Relations between the UK and France have soured in recent years as a result of Brexit, clashes over migrant boat crossings in the Channel and the controversial Aukus security alliance between the UK, US and Australia – described by Paris as a “stab in the back”.
Although many of the 175,000-strong Conservative membership are likely to have submitted their decision already, Truss and Sunak are still “vying for any final votes”, said the i news site.
The final hustings will take place in London on 31 August, with the vote closing two days later, on 2 September. The new Tory party leader and Boris Johnson’s successor will be announced on 5 September.
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