Jean-Pierre Jouyet interview: French ambassador to UK visits Stevenage

France's ambassador to the UK, Jean-Pierre Jouyet (right), at Stevenage's Hotel Cromwell with Comet

France's ambassador to the UK, Jean-Pierre Jouyet (right), at Stevenage's Hotel Cromwell with Comet chief reporter JP Asher. Picture: The Comet - Credit: Archant

Jean-Pierre Jouyet, France’s ambassador to the UK, is now half a year into his first post as a diplomat. And he has come a long way since he came to Britain for his first job, earning money for his summer holidays by washing dishes in Watford.

Emmanuel Macron’s man in London, the former chief of staff under President Hollande, came to Stevenage today to try to better understand the political and economic situation of our area – and in particular to gauge feelings surrounding Brexit, for which most of Stevenage voted.

He told the Comet he was proud to visit the place where Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton was born, and deeply impressed by the “dynamism” of the new town.

“It’s the first time in the UK I’m in a new town,” he said. “In Stevenage you have very large companies like MBDA, Airbus and GlaxoSmithKline.

“I was impressed by the dynamism and positive character of all the people I have met this morning, both on the economic side and the political side.”

The 64-year-old cut a dash when he met the Comet at Hotel Cromwell in Stevenage Old Town, with a racing-green scarf draped elegantly over his jacket.

He is still new in the world of diplomacy, but his financial background positions him well to help tempt City firms across the channel after Brexit.

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Mr Jouyet spent the morning with members of the Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce ahead of a visit to missile manufacturer MBDA in the afternoon – part of the defence industry so important to cross-channel relations.

Citing the positive state of mind he had encountered in Stevenage and the surrounding area, he said he had no doubt the region’s future was bright.

“The position close to London is a real advantage for Stevenage and for the county,” he said.

“On the political side, whatever the sensibilities, everybody is working for the future and for continuing the regeneration of this town. I found that very, very dynamic.”

Regarding Brexit, Mr Jouyet noted the split in Hertfordshire between those who voted to Leave and Remain in the 2016 referendum – and stressed the importance of analysing why.

“Down in London it’s not the same feeling and you need, as ambassador, to know better the country and feelings expressed,” he said.

“I try to be outside of London. I was already in Edinburgh, Nottingham, Manchester, Kent and Oxford, and today I’m in Stevenage because Stevenage – close to London – voted for Brexit.

“You have an economic situation which is good, with a rate of unemployment which is weak. I wanted to understand why to leave was so important in a dynamic county so close to London, which was for Remain.”

The ambassador said that, as he understood it, the Leave vote in areas like Stevenage was mostly because of concerns about migration and competition in the employment market.

French companies in the UK such as Stevenage’s MBDA and Airbus employ 700,000 people, he said, with 200,000 people working for British businesses in France – and he predicted that links would continue to strengthen however the Brexit process pans out.

Mr Jouyet met the Comet after it was reported this morning that the blue post-Brexit British passport, vaunted as a symbol of restored independence, might be printed in France by Franco-Dutch firm Gemalto – and he said this showed just how closely our two countries are connected.

He said: “I think it’s clear that whatever the Brexit outcome, the relationship between France and the UK will remain very strong.

“We have the same threats to fight, and it’s important to maintain our co-operation in defence, security, migration and with international policy.

“In foreign policy, we have the same view, and have done for more than a century – big partners, and very close allies. In Europe we are the two nuclear powers, and the two members of the Security Council in the UN.

“I have no doubt that the relationship between the UK and France will be maintained and enhanced.”