Liz Truss, one of two contenders to become the new UK Prime Minister, has been accused of risking worsened diplomatic relations with France after she said the “jury’s out” on President Emmanuel Macron.
Truss, the incumbent Foreign Secretary, told Conservative Party members at a leadership hustings in Norwich on Thursday that she was undecided as to whether her counterpart in Paris was “friend or foe”, reports dpa news agency.
A number of issues have affected the UK and France in recent months, including boat crossings in the Channel and travel chaos around Dover, which Truss blamed on a lack of staffing by the French authorities.
Both Truss and her rival candidate Rishi Sunak were asked a series of quickfire questions at the Norwich hustings.
TalkTV’s Julia Hartley-Brewer, the event host, asked Truss: “President Macron, friend or foe?”
“The jury’s out,” she responded to loud applause. “But if I become Prime Minister, I would judge him on deeds, not words.”
Sunak had quickly answered “friend” when asked the same question.
Meanwhile, the opposition Labour warned that the comment, which could be seen to risk straining tensions with France, showed a “terrible and worrying lack of judgment”.
Former Conservative minister Gavin Barwell also questioned the remark, tweeting: “You would have thought the Foreign Secretary was aware we are in a military alliance with France.”
The remarks comes after Truss distanced the UK from the prospect of a project of being part of a wider European political community following a meeting between Boris Johnson and the French president in June.
The Elysee Palace insisted that Johnson had expressed interest in the idea, which would see non-EU states such as the UK involved.
Truss denied the UK had ever been on board with such a proposal.
In July, she said delays to the journeys of holidaymakers near Dover were the fault of French authorities and had been “entirely avoidable”.