PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron threatened to close France’s border with Britain on Friday if Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to take more stringent measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak, a French newspaper reported.
On Friday evening, Johnson ordered pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and gyms to shut their doors to slow the accelerating spread of the disease, days after other European countries put their citizens on lockdown.
French newspaper Liberation, citing sources in Macron’s office, said Johnson’s decision came after the French leader gave him an ultimatum on Friday morning, threatening an entry ban on any traveller from the UK if there were no new measures.
“We had to clearly threaten him to make him finally budge,” the report quoted an Elysee official as saying.
Contacted by Reuters, Macron’s office declined to comment. But a source close to Macron confirmed there was a phone call between the two leaders on Friday. “The way it’s presented is a bit harsh, but we were indeed preparing to close (the border),” the source told Reuters.
Asked about the report, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “As the Prime Minister said on Friday, these new measures were taken based on scientific advice and in keeping with the government’s action plan set out two weeks ago.”
The British government has said it is acting on the guidance of its scientific advisers as it steps up efforts to limit the outbreak.
Macron ordered stringent restrictions on people’s movement in France on Monday. Restaurants, bars and schools have been shut nationwide and people ordered to stay at home other than to buy groceries, travel to work, exercise or for medical care.
Macron also pushed for European Union member states to close the bloc’s external borders earlier this week.
The report echoed comments Macron’s prime minister, Edouard Philippe, made in an interview on Tuesday.
“If neighbouring countries, Britain for instance, stayed for too long in a situation without taking these measures, then we would find it hard to accept on our soil British nationals who would have been moving freely in their own country,” Philippe said.
Britain left the EU on Feb. 1 but remains in a free-movement area with the bloc until the end of the year.
Reporting by Michel Rose; Additional reporting by James Davey in London; Editing by Daniel Wallis