The managing director of retailer John Lewis has issued an unreserved apology for what he said were “tongue in cheek” remarks about France – in which he said the country was “finished”.
Andy Street told an audience of entrepreneurs in London that France was “sclerotic, hopeless and downbeat” and advised those with investments there to “get them out quickly”, the Times reported.
He added: “I have never been to a country more ill at ease . . . nothing works and worse, nobody cares about it.”
But after the remarks were publicised, Mr Street was forced to backtrack in a statement issued by John Lewis.
He said: “The remarks I made were supposed to be lighthearted views, and tongue in cheek. On reflection I clearly went too far. I regret the comments, and apologise unreservedly.”
Mr Street’s comments, at an event marking the end of a John Lewis competition for start-ups, came after he had earlier this week been in Paris to collect an award for the business at the World Retail Congress.
He said: “You get on Eurostar from something I can only describe as the squalor pit of Europe, Gare du Nord, and you get off at a modern, forward-looking station [St Pancras].”
Mr Street also said that the award he had been given was “made of plastic and is frankly revolting”.
“If I needed any further evidence of a country in decline, here it is. Every time I [see it], I shall think, God help France.
“If you’ve got any investments in French business, get them out quickly.”