Sunday 23 July 2017

France ups its war of words with UK leaders

Nigel Morris

RELATIONS between Britain and France were at their lowest ebb in years as London and Paris traded accusations over the state of the two countries' economies.

The tensions were inflamed when Nicolas Sarkozy's finance minister became the latest in a series of senior French figures to attack the British government's handling of the economy.

Francois Baroin said yesterday: "The economic situation in Britain today is very worrying and you'd rather be French than British in economic terms. We don't want to be given any lessons and we don't give any."

David Cameron has not spoken to Mr Sarkozy since the French president described him as an "obstinate kid" after their public falling-out seven days ago. By contrast, Mr Cameron has discussed the eurozone's problems with several EU leaders, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, who telephoned him yesterday.

Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, told the French prime minister that the latest comments were "simply unacceptable" and urged him to "calm the rhetoric".

Earlier, the British government responded to the French attack by pointing to the UK's ability to borrow money more cheaply on the international markets as a sign of confidence in British policy. Far from smoothing over their differences, the acrimony between the two governments appears to have intensified. It dates back to last month when George Osborne suggested that France could be the next EU country to face a debt crisis.

Despite emerging isolated from last week's summit in Brussels, Britain is cautiously optimistic of building a new alliance with Germany in talks over the future of the euro.

The French finance minister took his swipe at the British government hours after being warned that his own country was about to slide back into recession. The French government is furious over suggestions that its credit rating should be downgraded from its cherished AAA status, blaming Mr Cameron's stance for undermining confidence in the EU's ability to get a grip on the crisis.

Downgrading

Francois Fillon, the French prime minister, and Christian Noyer, the governor of the French central bank, have suggested that Britain is a more suitable candidate for being downgraded because it has a greater deficit and weak economic growth.

Mr Cameron's spokeswoman dismissed Mr Baroin's claims and pointed to the low bond yields -- the rate at which a country can borrow over a long period -- being offered to the UK government. Britain is able to borrow money over 10 years at a rate of about 2pc, compared with a rate of about 3pc for France.

Meanwhile, a draft version of proposals for a fiscal compact to govern the eurozone emerged in Brussels. Under the plans, a summit of members would take place twice a year and countries that run up large deficits could be brought before the European Court of Justice. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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