Keir Starmer to meet Emmanuel Macron in Paris in break with protocol

Labour leader set for charm offensive meeting to ‘test’ ideas – but No 10 plays down PR coup

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 13 September 2023 17:49 BST
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Keir Starmer to meet French president Emmanuel Macron
Keir Starmer to meet French president Emmanuel Macron (PA/Getty)

Sir Keir Starmer is expected to meet Emmanuel Macron in Paris next week as the Labour leader attempts to woo the French president in a charm offensive.

No 10 tried to play down the significance of the meeting between the close ally and opposition leader – saying it was “not unusual”.

But the talks – reportedly requested by Sir Keir and agreed by Mr Macron – amount to a change in protocol for the French president.

He generally only holds talks with opposition politicians from his own centrist persuasion – such as those from the European Renew group.

The PR coup for Sir Keir will see him accompanied by his new chief of staff Sue Gray, along with shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, according to Politico.

A source at the Elysée told The Daily Telegraph that Mr Macrons had agreed to the meeting to allow the Labour leader to “test” reactions to his policies on Brexit and other areas.

“We’re not from the same political family, we are not socialists, but… the strategic nature of the bilateral relationship justifies us receiving him and this desire to come and test the major policies with us that he may put into his electoral programme,” said the source.

“What is our vision of UK-France relations tomorrow? What do we do with Brexit? What are we doing with the European Union? … Does he want to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement, and how does he globally see relations with Europeans tomorrow?

A spokesman for Sir Keir did not deny reports the meeting was planned for early next week, but said did not have “anything to confirm” yet.

The Labour leader has met several European leaders during his tenure, including German chancellor Olaf Scholz, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and then-Irish premier Micheal Martin.

Sir Keir could also be eyeing a meeting in the White House with US president Joe Biden in the coming months, whose “Bidenomics” and landmark green subsidy push has attracted admiration from the opposition.

Rishi Sunak has forged small boat patrols deals with Emmanuel Macron
Rishi Sunak has forged small boat patrols deals with Emmanuel Macron (PA Wire)

Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said: “It is not unusual for opposition leaders to have met world leaders in the past,” before highlighting the “strength” of the PM’s relationship with the French.

The PM has been able to forge closer ties with France after the relationship reached a low ebb under Boris Johnson. Cordial meetings with Mr Sunak and Mr Macron saw the connection dubbed “le bromance”.

The UK agreed to help fund a new detention centre in northern France, 500 extra officers and more drones as part of a £500m deal to stop small boat crossings after the pair met in Paris in March.

The meeting with Sir Keir set to take place on Tuesday happens shortly before King Charles carries out a state visit to France. Mr Macron is said to have told Mr Sunak that he would welcome Sir Keir when they met at the G20 last week.

Catherine Haddon of the Institute for Government think tank said it was “not abnormal” for opposition leaders to meet foreign leaders, though she warned it could look “presumptive”.

She said: “Starmer and his team clearly feel it works for them, and France is an important country to have a relationship with. But still, what is interesting in this is not that Starmer is doing this, but that Macron is.”

Keir Starmer also meeting Europol officials on his small boat plans
Keir Starmer also meeting Europol officials on his small boat plans (PA Wire)

It comes as Mr Starmer prepares to meet Europol officials at The Hague on Thursday as he tries to highlight Labour’s proposals to tackle small boat crossings by asylum seekers.

The Labour leader is expected to discuss his plans to create a new cross-border cell at the National Crime Agency (NCA). The party also wants to send officers to work with border officials of “upstream” countries to break people-smuggling gangs.

Labour is also proposing more caseworkers at the Home Office to clear the asylum claim backlog, costing £6m a day for hotel and other accommodation.

When asked why Labour did not support the Tories’ Rwanda deportation plan, a spokesperson for Mr Starmer pointed to the costs and said money would be “much better” spent investing in the NCA.

The Labour leader will also travel to Montreal in Canada later this week for a conference of centre-left leaders to urge them to back cooperation on people trafficking.

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