Boris Johnson is hoping to repair his “broken” relationship with Emmanuel Macron following the French president’s re-election, but in Paris there was no immediate sign that the cross-Channel froideur is about to end.

Johnson has told colleagues he expects UK-France relations to improve now that France’s presidential elections are out of the way, with scope to tackle the issue of cross-Channel migration in small boats.

“While Macron was facing a challenge from the right, there wasn’t much of an incentive for him to stop migrants getting in small boats and heading to Britain,” said one ally of Johnson.

The prime minister also wants to boost bilateral defence co-operation and to use what Johnson’s aides call France’s “world leading” technology to bolster Britain’s rollout of new nuclear power stations.

“Our view was to have the election and then go from there,” said one ally of Johnson. “Our expectation is that Macron’s re-election will take the heat out of things and there might be scope for more from the relationship.”

But in Paris there has been a chilly response to the idea of a reset of UK-French relations, with one senior minister saying that Macron had more important things to worry about.

“Our first challenge will not be the relationship between the UK and France,” Bruno Le Maire, French finance minister, told reporters during Macron’s re-election celebrations near the Eiffel Tower on Sunday.

Meanwhile Britain’s former ambassador to Paris, Lord Peter Ricketts, said: “The relationship between Johnson and Macron is basically broken. Macron doesn’t trust him. He doesn’t think he’s serious.”

Johnson’s spokesman insisted on Monday the two leaders had a “good relationship” and that they even had a good chemistry.

Johnson, who sent a personal note of congratulations to Macron on Sunday by WhatsApp, will set out his ideas for closer co-operation in a letter to the French president.

There was talk in London last year about a new treaty between the UK and France, an update of the 2010 Lancaster House agreement signed by former prime minister David Cameron and French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, focused on defence and security issues.

But the idea has, so far, not progressed and Downing Street said the initial focus would be on topics such as migration in small boats and the festering dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol, part of Britain’s Brexit deal that governs checks on goods travelling into the region from Great Britain.

Britain and France have not held a bilateral summit since January 2018, hosted by former prime minister Theresa May at the Sandhurst military academy, and relations between Johnson and Macron have become strained.

Macron was furious with Johnson over the UK’s participation in the Aukus Indo-Pacific defence pact last year with the US and Australia, which cost France a lucrative submarine deal with Canberra.

Johnson’s insouciant “donnez-moi un break” comment, aimed at Macron, exacerbated things, as have barbs thrown by the prime minister towards the EU and towards France over its handling of the migrant crisis.

For his part Macron warned French voters that if they stayed at home they could allow Marine Le Pen to become president, just as complacent British voters failed to stop Brexit. “I can tell you that they regretted it the next day,” he said.

One French official said the relationship had become “petty and nasty”. Macron, handed a fresh five-year mandate, may not feel that working with the embattled Johnson is a political priority.

Sir Peter Westmacott, another former UK ambassador to France, said Downing Street’s view that Macron was taking a tough stance towards Britain for domestic electoral reasons was misguided.

“There aren’t many votes to be won by sticking it to the Brits,” he said, although he acknowledged fishing issues were emotive, referring to a bitter spat between the two countries over access to fisheries after Brexit. “Macron will be willing to work with Johnson if he detects serious intent to engage.”

But Westmacott said Macron would “not cut Johnson any slack” on the issue of the NI protocol. “He thinks it’s entirely a problem of the prime minister’s own making,” he said.

The often fractious post-Brexit relationship between the UK on one side and France and the EU on the other barely featured in the French election.

Macron is now expected to turn his attention to strengthening the EU and consolidating the Franco-German couple at the heart of it, as well as supporting Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, in his fight against the Russian invasion.

On the home front, Macron also has his hands full with reconciling a divided nation and winning the legislative elections in June.

David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary, said: “With the historic re-election of Macron as French president, it’s time to end the petty spats with one of our closest diplomatic and defence partners.”

Analysts say Macron is unlikely to make the UK relationship an immediate foreign policy priority. “There will probably be a harder line towards the UK on all Brexit-related issues,” said Samantha de Bendern, associate fellow at Chatham House.



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