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French President Macron hosts UK opposition leader Starmer

September 19, 2023

Keir Starmer is in Paris a day ahead of King Charles' delayed state visit to France. The UK opposition leader has said he wants closer ties to the EU but won't seek to rejoin the bloc.

Kier Starmer at the BBC in London
The Labour Party maintains a lead in opinion polls over the governing ConservativesImage: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron hosted the leader of the UK's opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Tuesday.

The meeting comes as Starmer — increasingly confident that he can oust the ruling Conservatives and bring Labour back into government for the first time in well over a decade — has been making a number of appearances on the world stage.

Little information was given about the contents of Tuesday's talks in Paris, but Starmer recently told The Financial Times in an interview that he would seek closer ties with the European Union while ruling out any attempt to rejoin the bloc, if he were to win.

No French endorsement

It is not unusual for Macron to meet with opposition leaders, but the talks in Paris will not provide Starmer with any kind of endorsement from the French president.

Macron similarly met with German presidential hopefuls Olaf Scholz, now German Chancellor, and Armin Laschet, ahead of the 2021 German election.

"It's really just a question of meeting and hearing what Labour would do differently and that's it," Georgina Wright, a European politics expert at French think-tank Institut Montaigne told AFP

She predicted that Macron will be "as much as he can in listening mode" but may also "highlight France's priorities."

For the French, Starmer's visit is unlikely to generate much excitement, especially considering that it comes a day before a delayed state visit by King Charles and Queen Camilla.

UK elections on the horizon

Starmer has been trying to prove his worth as an international statesman, visiting Europol in The Hague last week and appearing with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Canadian city of Montreal.

The visit to Paris highlights the important relationship between the United Kingdom and France, one that has only recently begun to warm again after disputes over the Brexit leaving deal.

Recent opinion polls have put Labour up to 20 points ahead of the Conservatives, who have been in power since 2010.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is the fifth Conservative prime minister to serve over that period, must call an election by January 2025.

The current term has seen the completion of Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic, soaring inflation and a cost-of-living crisis.

Cost-of-living crisis in Britain

ab/jcg (AFP, AP)