In recent years, tensions over Brexit, immigration, and NATO have put a strain on cross-Channel relations. With French President Emmanuel Macron a regular target of the conservative press, Liz Truss even told an audience during last year’s Conservative leadership campaign that “the jury is out” on whether President Macron was a friend or foe of Britain.
But relations have clearly improved since last summer. Macron made a well-received visit to London to pay his respects following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September and spoke movingly (in English) of the French people’s respect for her. In March this year, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak travelled to Paris to announce a new Franco-British agreement on policing cross-Channel illegal migration, with President Macron hailing the deal as a “new start” in relations between the two neighbours. Close coordination between the NATO allies over support for Ukraine has also helped to mend ties.
In a tracker poll with UK in a Changing Europe, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies have charted Britons views of their neighbour across the Channel since November 2021. In this short time period, favourable views of France have increased steadily from 37% to 47% of Britons, while unfavourable views have fallen from 28% to 15% today.
This change in opinion of France has primarily been driven by 2019 Conservative voters.
In June 2022, opinion on France was split evenly among this group, with 32% holding a favourable view of the country and 31% an unfavourable view. One year later, the percentage of 2019 Conservative voters who have a favourable view of France has increased to 42%, while the number holding an unfavourable view has fallen to 19%.
Britons also see France as one of the UK’s most important allies. When asked to name the top three most important UK Allies, 27% of Britons select France, placing it third behind the United States (54%) and Australia (35%), with whom Britain recently signed the new AUKUS defence pact, but ahead of Canada (26%) and Germany (23%). France is also the highest placed European nation on the list.
While Britons have previously expressed a view that relations with France are close, they have in the past said they believe relations should be closer still. Last December, 44% of Britons said they believed that current relations between the two countries were close or very close, against only 13% who thought relations were distant or very distant.
However, in the same poll last December, 58% of Britons thought that relations between the UK and France SHOULD be close or very close, while just 8% thought they should be distant, numbers which had remained consistent throughout the previous year.
In summary, despite tensions in recent years, relations between the United Kingdom and France remain strong, while British voters continue to view their near-neighbour largely favourably and to want closer relations with the country, seeing in France a vital UK ally.