Hollande treated to drizzle, an airline hangar and a gastropub

Prime Minister David Cameron and President Francois Hollande Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The pair ate a pub lunch in the countryside

The British pick-me-up offered to a French president with an economy in the doldrums, approval ratings in the gutter and a private life in the headlines was a draughty airline hangar, January drizzle and the Westminster political press pack.

The plan here from Downing Street was to offer a different trip from the standard.

So no Heathrow, no London traffic, no smiles on the steps of Downing Street.

Instead, a pub lunch in the countryside.

Not at a rough and tumble, dartboard kind of gaff, but a boutique gastropub on the banks of the river Windrush in Swinbrook, Oxfordshire.

The Swan Inn, which featured on Downton Abbey and belongs to the last Mitford sister.

It was probably just like your last pub lunch.

The talking point was European Union reform, and there was a cameraman in tow.

Over Upton Smokery potted shrimps, grilled fillets of Bibury rainbow trout and bramley apple and raisin crumble - oh, and French wine - President Hollande and the prime minister agreed on the easy stuff to agree on.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The Swan Inn was featured on Downtown Abbey

The European Union needs reform, the countries that use the single currency need to work better together, those not in the eurozone, like the UK, need better structures to reflect their needs.

But on the stuff that matters - how change will happen and when, there's no agreement.

Put simply, it stacks up to this: David Cameron will need a treaty change in Brussels to prove his renegotiation of the UK's EU membership has been sufficiently substantial to argue for a yes vote, a stay in vote, at a referendum.

He needs that by 2017.

But President Hollande needs that like a hole in the head: 2017 is when this currently very unpopular president has an appointment with the electorate.

And the French know a thing or two about EU referenda and no votes - it happened to them on the EU constitution in 2005.

So what about agreements?

There was no shortage of big smiles and firm handshakes.

So what justified them?

In two words, defence co-operation.

Joint drones, or pilotless planes.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The two leaders held a press conference in an aircraft hangar at RAF Brize Norton

Joint mini submarines, again pilotless, to detect mines.

Joint work in the Central African Republic, with the UK supporting France's efforts there.

The gist of it was this: from in the air to under the water, military co-operation runs deep and is sky high.

To make that point, the press conference took place in a giant aircraft hangar at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire - the air force's biggest base.

Next to us all was an absolute beast of the skies, known as a Voyager, and the very symbol of Franco-British cooperation. It's an Airbus, so the engines come from Derby, the wings from north Wales, the body from Toulouse.

But that is where the agreement ended.

The rhetorical brickbats have been thrown with gusto over the Channel recently, with Conservatives musing openly that Francois Hollande is the personification of what they see as an economically illiterate socialist dinosaur.

French diplomats have countered that the NHS is ailing, and our roads and trains are useless.

Entente not very cordiale.

The prime minister mused that he was a British Conservative, Monsieur Hollande was a French socialist, so what do you expect?

Oh, one more thing.

The elephant that would have been in the hangar if it had been petite enough to fit through the door.

President Hollande's love life.

The British press sees its muscular awkwardness as a virility symbol; their French cousins as pathetically barren and unenquiring.

And then up stood Christopher Hope of the Daily Telegraph.

"Do you think your private life has made France an international joke? Are you still having an affair with Julie Gayet and do you wish she was here?"

The president declined to answer.

And Julie Gayet may have been too busy anyway.

She was nominated today, as best supporting actress, for the French equivalent of an Oscar.

For playing a suspenders-wearing seductress.

More on this story