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What do the French elite make of Boris Johnson?

24 July 2019

4:16 PM

24 July 2019

4:16 PM

So, what do the French make of Boris Johnson? Ridicule, contempt and inevitable comparisons to President Trump characterise the reaction of the media and political classes here, who are simply incapable of understanding the appeal of a politician operating outside the blob.

Le Monde this morning had little to say about Britain’s new prime minister other than that he is known for his ‘eccentricities, flexible positions, narcissism and lies.’ Of course, precisely the same could be said of French president Emmanuel Macron, but you’ll never read this in Le Monde.

‘A liar, egotist, eccentric, obsessed with money,’ declared Libération, in a nearly identical summation of Britain’s new prime minister, laying on a thick layer of ridicule.

Jean Quatremer, Brussels correspondent of Libé, added, not without a certain respect, that for Europeans, Boris Johnson ‘remains the incarnation of the worst of the British elite, a product of public school and Oxbridge, subtly arrogant, totally cynical, xenophobic, certain of his cultural superiority.’

‘In the end Boris Johnson is in the image of the British political class, a politician who plays cynically with the future of his countrymen.’

President Macron sent his congratulations to Johnson, while letting it be known he could expect no concessions. Qui vivra verra, as they say here. We’ll see who blinks, but the French have plenty to lose from a disorderly Brexit, and historically conflicts with the British have not ended well for them. For sure, Boris is unlikely to be a pushover, as was his predecessor.

The French commentariat works at a leisurely pace, and we may have to wait until tomorrow to read the various recyclings of this analysis by the leaders of French opinion. In any case, they will have been distracted today by the reopening of the upscale Fouquet restaurant on the Champs-Elysée after it was destroyed by the Gilets Jaunes. The line to take should be settled by the time coffee and petits fours are served.

Outside the Paris bubble, opinions of Johnson may be more favourable. What’s left of the French right are likely to share the view that Boris is a British Trump, although they will see this as a good thing. But nobody pays much attention to them. As far as the Paris elite is concerned, Boris is a buffoon.

Jonathan Miller is the author of France a Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Gibson Square). He tweets at @lefoudubaron


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