IT is fortunate that Britain and France signed the treaty which became known as the Entente Cordiale in 1904 rather than a year earlier. Imagine if Queen Elizabeth's visit to France, which ends today, had taken place last year when the two nations were hardly on speaking terms after the fall-out over Iraq. Now there is a new factor uniting the French and British to which the Queen made a specific, and quite political, reference in her speech at the State Dinner on Monday: “We cannot afford the luxury of short-term division or discord in the face of the threats to our security and prosperity that now challenge us all.” The realism of this comment was unusual and it must be assumed that the Queen had discussed the words she used with the Prime Minister. The phrase, “we cannot afford the luxury of short-term division or discord” is an interesting and potentially controversial one because it could be taken to imply that the disagreements over Iraq were not seriously felt or substantial. Perhaps that is still Mr Blair's view of the position the French took in the UN Security Council - but should the Queen have put it in quite that way? For his part, President Chirac did not hold back from expressing views of a political nature. Speaking of Britain's and France's membership of the European Union he said that the European Constitution is “urgently needed” - not a view that Queen Elizabeth of many of her subjects necessarily share. Perhaps she knew that she would have the last word when in yesterday's speech to the French Senate she described Britain's ties to the United States as “complementary” to those she has with Europe.


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