Boris and Macron's 'bromance' is rooted in despair

29 June 2022

4:00 PM

29 June 2022

4:00 PM

Is ‘Le Bromance’ really back on? Boris Johnson suggested as much at the G7 summit in Bavaria this week, where he strolled arm-in-arm with Emmanuel Macron. Yet when one considers the breadth of subjects the two avoided in their discussions – no Northern Ireland Protocol, cross-Channel migration, or Aukus – it is hard to believe the basis of their renascent friendship is better Franco-British relations. The reality is that their jaunt overseas, epitomised by Bojo and Manu’s communal clowning, comes as a blissful diversionary and recreational break from domestic woes. Their new-found fraternity may lie in shared solace at their strikingly similar political predicaments.

Macron may have been reelected president on 24 April, but over half of his 58.5 per cent poll derived from voters refusing to endorse Marine Le Pen, in effect voting tactically. But the legislative elections are a truer reflection of what French voters really think of their president, engaging in tactical voting against his party to force him into a hung parliament. A poll last week in Le Figaro showed that over two thirds of the French believed that clipping Macron’s wings was the outcome they sought.

Many British voters are wishing the same fate to befall Boris. His 2019 80-seat majority continues to shrink. Last week’s two by-election losses showed a degree of tactical voting designed to inflict maximum damage on the Prime Minister. Worse still is the body blow inflicted by the parliamentary Conservative party’s confidence motion, when 40 per cent of MPs failed to support him.

Both leaders continue to be in denial about their plight. Macron’s eight-minute TV broadcast to the nation last week proclaimed that the new parties in the National Assembly had a duty to conform to his presidential programme endorsed by the electorate, thereby ignoring the subsequent legislative election drubbing. Meanwhile, Boris also waves opposition aside claiming that the 60 per cent of votes in the 1922 committee are what really count.

Despite Macron and Boris burying their heads in the sands, moves to unseat or destabilise the embattled duo continue. President Macron is not in an ejectable seat, but neither can he stand again in 2027. This makes him something of a lame duck president at the mercy of a host of hopefuls, from his erstwhile popular prime minister Edouard Philippe, to leading cabinet figures like the ambitious finance minister Bruno Le Maire, who may wish to demonstrate to the electorate how they restrained Macron. The first can make the president’s life difficult by withholding support from his 27 ‘Horizons’ MPs, thereby denying Macron’s prime minister a working majority. The second by wielding his considerable Treasury influence in cabinet to deny funding for bills, in the manner of a powerful Rishi Sunak.

Boris is more vulnerable. First to the 1922 committee, if it changes the rules allowing another confidence vote before a year, something distinctly possible after the forthcoming ‘1922’ elections. Second to the Privileges committee, whose report in the autumn will decide whether Boris knowingly misled the House of Commons and thus be expected to resign.

Who knows, maybe our new bosom friends compared notes on how to improve their plight. Macron, at the head of an ungovernable France, could after a year exercise his constitutional right to dissolve the National Assembly in the hope of returning a majority, though he must have in mind how badly that turned out for president Jacques Chirac in 1997. Boris, too, could call for an early election in the event of a negative 1922 no-confidence vote to trump it with the electorate, though he will be alive to the Theresa May disaster.

Of course, both might now be consulting in Madrid on the nuclear option for staying in power. Without resorting to the tactic of Louis Napoleon reaching the end of his presidential mandate and declaring a coup d’etat in 1851, Macron does have some dubious constitutional options. Though it has never happened under the Fifth Republic – but did under the Third – Macron could resign as president. He could then try standing again in a subsequent presidential election while fending off the Constitutional Council. Boris, meanwhile, hinted mysteriously from his exultant foreign retreat that he could see himself carrying on as PM until the 2030s. Alas, next week our fraternal duo will be back to earth with a bump.

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