What a difference a few weeks makes. This summer, when asked on the campaign trail if the French President, Emmanuel Macron, was a “friend or foe”, Liz Truss said, “the jury is out”. Ms Truss, of course, went on to become Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister.
Her successor, Rishi Sunak, has taken a different approach to his Gallic neighbour. After meeting in person for the first time at the United Nations COP27 climate change conference in Egypt last week, Mr Sunak tweeted a picture of them together, with a pointedly simple message that turned the page on Ms Truss’s equivocation: “Friends, partners, allies.”
Monday’s deal between France and Britain to step up patrols and policing to intercept migrant crossings in the Channel suggests that the two sides are already working together. Neither leader wants to let the crossings poison their relations at a time when issues like the war in Ukraine, the climate crisis and the impending economic recession are looming.
The brewing bromance between Mr Macron and Mr Sunak also reflects their characters. Both are former investment bankers – the president was at Rothschild while the Prime Minister worked with Goldman Sachs – and they understand finance and economics far better than most of their contemporaries.
They are pragmatists who wince at political grandstanding, traits that both Ms Truss and her own antagonistic predecessor, Boris Johnson, indulged in. They are socially liberal, technologically savvy centrists in their early 40s, who made history as the youngest leaders in their countries’ postwar history. They are short of physical stature and enjoy slim-cut tailored suits (and have both been photographed in hoodies).
For Mr Macron, it is a relief not to have to deal with an opposite number who sees France as an easy punchball to distract from domestic crises. At their COP27 meeting, he looked genuinely pleased to meet Mr Sunak, and the photos of their handshake even inspired memes on French social media that suggested the two were re-enacting scenes from romantic movies like Dirty Dancing and Love Actually.
The two will meet again this week, at the G20 summit in Bali. Moreover, Mr Macron has invited Mr Sunak to a Paris conference on Ukraine in December, and, early next year, they should hold the first formal Anglo-French summit in five years.
There is, however, an obstacle to any burgeoning France-British partnership: Brexit. Mr Sunak voted Leave in 2016, and he has still to indicate whether he will withdraw legislation to scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol and thus override Britain’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.
This is an ideological split that will ensure there will always be some distance between the two. Nonetheless, they have already shown a willingness to overcome this barrier. And Mr Sunak may come to rely on Mr Macron as his first point of call in Europe.