Emmanuel Macron departed the COP26 summit in Glasgow after just a day – leaving fellow leaders to fight on for climate change commitments.
The French President is believed to have flown back to Paris last night after a handful of engagements – missing the ‘family photo’ with dozens of other premiers including Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau.
The quick departure came after awkward encounters with Mr Johnson over the bitter fishing rights row, with the French seemingly backing down amid claims the EU had refused to support their tough line.
There was also a distinctly uncomfortable atmosphere with Australian PM Scott Morrison, whom the president publicly called a liar for his role in the AUKUS submarine alliance.
It is thought that Mr Macron’s plan was always to head back to Paris after the first day of the summit. He was also at the G20 gathering in Rome over the weekend.
However, it could raise eyebrows as Mr Johnson, Mr Biden and others were still in full deal-making mode today.
After the two-day leaders’ element of the summit, COP26 will continue until the end of next week in the hope of securing progress against climate change.
Mr Macron’s early departure came as Mr Johnson insisted the row over fishing rights is ‘vanishingly unimportant’ when compared to other issues like climate change.
The Prime Minister also insisted that the UK had not given any ground during negotiations about the dispute.
He told a press conference this evening: ‘On our relations with France, I really renew what I have said before, we are working very, very closely with our French friends and partners on the things that matter most to the people of the world, that is tackling climate change, reducing CO2 and by comparison with that hugely important issue, the ones you mention are really vanishingly unimportant.
‘But since you ask about whether the UK has changed its position, let me put it that way, on the fishing issue, the answer is no.’
World leaders posed for a group photo during a lavish evening reception to mark the opening day of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, but Emmanuel Macron was nowhere to be seen
Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron had a frosty standoff in Glasgow on Monday morning as the PM welcomed the French President to the COP26 climate change summit amid a furious Anglo-French row over fishing rights
The world leaders capped off the first day of the conference with a lavish royal reception at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum with Prince Charles, Prince William, Kate Middleton and the Duchess of Cornwall all in attendance.
But Macron was not in any pictures of the event.
Mr Macron confirmed just hours before the evening reception that France would not go ahead with retaliatory measures against Britain amid the two nations’ bitter dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights.
He declared discussions between France, the UK and the European Commission would ‘continue tomorrow’ and ruled out any retaliation against Britain ‘while we’re negotiating’.
The dropping of the deadline came shortly after Mr Macron came face to face with Australian PM Scott Morrison at the COP26 event, whom he publicly called a liar for his role in the submarine row.
When asked by reporters at the climate summit whether Mr Morrison lied to him before tearing up a $90billion submarine contract and doing a deal with the US and UK, Mr Macron replied: ‘I don’t think, I know.’
Boris Johnson greets Australia’s Scott Morrison at COP26 UN Climate Change yesterday
An awkward handshake in Rome between Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) and French President Emmanuel Macron (left) took place when the pair met in Rome last week
Macron was even pictured sharing a joke with Prince Charles just hours earlier on Monday, but has seemingly disappeared and did not show his face at the royal reception
Her Majesty, 95, who was forced to miss the conference after her overnight stay in hospital last month, told leaders via video ‘to rise above the politics of the moment, and achieve true statesmanship’
After the monarch’s powerful speech, the Prime Minister said: ‘What we’ve got today, as Her Majesty alluded to, is the biggest gathering of world leaders in this country since the foundation of the UN at the end of the Second World War, and it’s quite an extraordinary historic event.
‘But in a way, what we are doing today, is even more important, because we face nothing less than a mortal threat to our planet and to our civilisation, to our way of life.’
Environment Secretary George Eustice claimed the scallop vessel Cornelis Gert Jan ‘has now been released’ after being accused of fishing without a licence and detained at Le Havre.
But the vessel is still at the Normandy port and French prosecutors insist the situation remains ‘subject to legal negotiations’ – with a deposit of around £125,000 due before she can return home.
The confusion came after Mr Macron said he would go back to the negotiating table with Britain rather than follow through on his extraordinary sabre-rattling.
He has shelved threats to block British trawlers from landing their catches in French ports, reduce electricity to Jersey and tighten customs checks until at least Thursday.
But despite the lull in hostilities, French fishing chiefs have warned trawlermen to stay away from British waters in case the spat blows up again.
Mr Eustice told Sky News this morning: ‘We welcome the fact France has stepped back from the threats it was making last Wednesday.
‘We’ve always said we want to de-escalate this and always said we have an ever-open door to discuss any further evidence France or the EU might have on any additional vessels they’d like to have licensed.
‘France has clearly taken a decision not to implement some of the decisions they threatened last Wednesday, we very much welcome that but I think there’s going to be a very important meeting on Thursday between Lord frost and his opposite number, not just on fisheries but a wider range of issues as well.’
Jondy Ward, skipper of the Cornelis Gert Jan, is pictured aboard the vessel in the port of Le Havre today
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the scallop vessel ‘has now been released’ after being accused of fishing without a licence and detained at Le Havre
On the situation with the Cornelis, Mr Eustice said: ‘I understand that vessel has now been released and I think there’s going to need to be some further discussions, clearly there was an administrative error at some point.
‘We haven’t quite got to the bottom of that but that vessel I understand has been released.’
On the surface the UK had refused to budge in the dispute over fishing rights, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss adamant Britain would ‘not roll over’.
However, there have been gradually more being granted, with UK authorities insisting more evidence has been supplied that they used waters before Brexit.
Mr Macron told reporters at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow last night: ‘It is not while we are negotiating that we are going to impose sanctions.
‘Since this afternoon, discussions have resumed on the basis of a proposal I made to Prime Minister Johnson.
‘The talks need to continue. We’ll see where we are tomorrow at the end of the day, to see if things have really changed. The next few hours are important hours.’ He added: ‘I understood that the British were going to come back to us tomorrow with other proposals.’
France’s Europe minister, Clement Beaune, tweeted late last night that he would hold talks with Brexit minister Lord Frost on Thursday in Paris.
The close ally of Macron said any planned retaliatory measures would ‘not be applied before this meeting’.
France is furious at the UK and Jersey’s decision to turn down applications from a number of French vessels to fish in their waters.
The Elysee Palace had originally stood firm, saying that if Britain refused to give ground on the number of licences it issued to French fishermen, it would implement its threats to British trawlers, to Jersey and on customs checks.