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March 15, 2013 5:49 pm
Boris Johnson barrelled into Paris on Friday, proclaiming himself mayor of one of the largest French cities and offering mild contrition for his earlier comparison of the socialist government to lower-class revolutionaries.
The Conservative mayor of London, who caused a stir in France in November when he compared François Hollande’s tax-hiking ministers to the sans-culottes of the 1789 French revolution, declared himself a “great admirer” of France in a live breakfast radio interview. He spoke throughout in what he excused as “barbaric” French, but his language skills would put to shame most British politicians.
Taken to task – as he later put it – on air by a woman listener, he showered praise on French companies supplying public services in London, the capital’s Charles de Gaulle airport (its four runways eclipsing Heathrow’s two) and French infrastructure, including its nuclear industry and its high-speed trains.
But he could not resist a dig over the large number of French people living in London. Pointing out that there were 250,000 French men and women in the British capital, he said in a later speech to a business audience: “I am the mayor of the sixth-biggest French city in the world and those numbers are growing.”
He added: “Of course there are people who say – I may even have said it myself – that the influx is partly to do with taxation and there may have been the odd colourful comparison with 1789 or the revocation of the Edict of Nantes [when thousands fled France in 1685 when Protestantism was made illegal].
“Yet that analysis underestimates the dynamism and success of French companies”, doing business in London.
The visit drew strong interest in Paris. Mr Johnson recorded an appearance for a popular evening current affairs television show and was on the cover of Le Monde’s glossy weekend magazine with the title: “The eccentric who makes Cameron tremble.”
Wrapped in his characteristic bluff humour, the mayor had a pointed political message to make as he met Bertrand Delanoë, his opposite number in Paris, other politicians and business people.
Stressing how French companies “clean our streets, treat our water, generate our electricity” and even owned some of London’s “gorgeous red buses”, he asked rhetorically whether any French mayor would allow British companies to do the reverse in their cities.
It was, he said, “proof of the superhuman fidelity of the British, in spite of all the criticism that we sometimes hear, to the principles of the European single market”.
He argued that London was vital to French and European companies as a financial centre, criticising recent EU moves supported by Paris to “attack the continent’s number one financial centre with bonus caps or any other ill-thought out measure”.
London’s bankers “will not vanish to France or Frankfurt. They will go to Singapore or Hong Kong or New York,” he said, warning that attacks on London’s prowess risked tipping British opinion against remaining in the EU. “Imagine how France would respond to an EU directive that seemed hostile to the interests of French farmers and French farmers alone,” he asked.
Mr Johnson told journalists Mr Delanoë had urged London to adopt the “Autolib” system of public hire electric cars that Paris launched last year to match its “Velib” bike hire scheme. The London mayor said he was “willing to be persuaded” but wanted to be sure it did not add to the volume of traffic in the city – and would insist on the vehicles being made in the London area.
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