France rolls out the red carpet for Britain
A A YEAR AGO, there was a mutual trust between France and Britain in freedom. Liz Truss, the short-term British prime minister, had lost her job after saying she did not know whether Emmanuel Macron, the French president, was “friend or foe”. The two countries clashed over fish, migrants, borders and more. So it is a sign of the cross-channel revolution since then that this week France is rolling out the red carpet to Britain.
Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labor Party, will be the first person to benefit this week. On September 19 Mr Macron will host him at the Elysée Palace, the day before King Charles and Queen Camilla arrive in Paris for a three-day state visit. Some in Labor circles are presenting Sir Keir’s meeting as a coup. In reality it is not unusual for the French president to have opposition leaders, just as Theresa May saw Mr Macron at Downing Street in 2017 when he was running for the presidency. In Paris Mr Macron hosted Olaf Scholz at the Elysée in 2021 before he became chancellor of Germany, as well as other progressive leaders – including, in 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky when he was running to become the leader of Ukraine.
Here is a moment for Mr Macron and Sir Keir to measure each other. Although they are very different in style, they have a lot in common. Both come from the centre-left: Sir Keir as a Labor moderate; Mr Macron is a former minister in a Socialist government. Both count Sir Tony Blair, former prime minister, as a regular interlocutor. Both have professional backgrounds outside of politics: Sir Keir as a lawyer; Mr. Macron as an investment banker. Both also happen to be amateur pianists when they were young, and they have a special love for German composers, including Beethoven.
Sir Keir arrived in Paris after reiterating his wish that, if he became Britain’s next prime minister, he would try to negotiate improvements to the Brexit deal agreed in 2020. Known as the Trade Agreement and Co-operation, a review is expected in 2025-26. He would not seek to re-enter the single market or the European Union’s customs union, but hopes to secure better arrangements across a wide range of subjects from border checks on animals and food to migration and protection and security.
In reality, however, the meeting in Paris is not a time for any compromise, or even preparation for it. France has always been clear that Brexit talks must go ahead between the British government and the European Commission in Brussels, and has consistently resisted any attempt by London to mend bilateral ties. draw For the French, as Georgina Wright of the Institut Montaigne, a Paris think tank, says, the meeting with Sir Keir is “more about listening to what Labor has to offer, and how they would hope to achieve. “
To some extent, the French have already turned the page on the painful cross-channel years under Boris Johnson, and then Ms Truss. In general, they work well with the current British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. Last year they agreed an agreement to strengthen policing on “small boat” routes from the French coast, although the results of the cooperation have been limited. The bilateral optics have also improved. In March the two governments came together at the Elysée for a Franco-British summit, the first in five years.
The French are well aware, however, that they must also look ahead. It’s hard not to see the appeal for them in working with a future British government under a leader who both voted against Brexit and is actually getting involved more organized and open with the Council. EU, especially in terms of defense and security. “The French really miss the strategic dimension that the British bring to the table,” said Mujtaba Rahman, of the Eurasia Group, a consultancy firm.The chances are that Mr Macron and Sir Keir will get along well.
After Sir Keir’s audience, the trumpets will come out in force. The royal state tour will begin on September 20. It has been suspended since March because of a row over Mr Macron’s pension reform: now republican France is preparing for royal mania. Mr Macron addresses King Charles at a banquet in Versailles, which the French claim is a reference to a state dinner held there in 1972 for Queen Elizabeth, without ‘ remember why their monarchs were in trouble in the past. The king will give a speech, at least partly in French, to members of both houses of parliament at the Senate, and will visit Notre Dame, which is still undergoing renovation after the fire There will be events on climate change and biodiversity, as well as, naturea trip to an organic vineyard near Bordeaux.
The king and Mr Macron, who sent a warm message to Britons following Queen Elizabeth’s death last year, are said to have already forged a bond. As for the French in general, their media gave the queen’s funeral extensive live coverage. A full 71% say they have a positive opinion of the British royal family. In fact back in 2015 a young and unknown minister of the French government argued that the French did not on some level “want the death” of their own king. The minister in question? Mr. Macron. ■