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UK’s Starmer meets Macron to burnish international standing

PARIS (AFP) – British opposition chief Keir Starmer yesterday held talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, seeking to enhance his standing as a potential international leader with the Labour Party increasingly confident it can take over from Britain’s ruling Conservatives.

The French president has dealt with no less than four United Kingdom (UK) Conservative premiers over the last half decade during a period of political turbulence in Britain that has seen surging tensions between Paris and London.

He and Starmer spoke about “the importance of strengthening cooperation between France and the UK, so that this partnership continues ensuring prosperity and security for the French and British people”, Macron’s Elysee Palace office said in a statement.

More specifically, the pair “discussed the need to guarantee economic and energy security in Europe and reiterated their desire to lend continued support to Ukraine,” the Elysee added.

The closed-door talks at Macron’s Elysee Palace in Paris came as part of a mini-international tour for Starmer.

He visited Europol in The Hague last week and appeared alongside fellow centre-left leaders – including Canada’s Justin Trudeau and former British prime minister Tony Blair – at a weekend gathering in Montreal.

FROM LEFT: United Kingdom Labour Leader Keir Starmer; and French President Emmanuel Macron. PHOTOS: AFP

In a Sunday interview billed by the Financial Times as Starmer “stepping onto the global stage”, he told the newspaper he would “attempt to get a much better deal for the UK” with the European Union.

The post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation agreement struck by ex-PM Boris Johnson is due for review in 2025.

Starmer, who has been wooing international investors as a potential PM, yesterday posted a photo to X (formerly Twitter) with business leaders before seeing Macron.

“My Labour government will provide the economic stability needed for international business to invest in the UK,” he wrote.

France is a partner of rare importance for Britain as an EU heavyweight, close military ally and fellow nuclear power, fellow United Nations Security Council member and immediate neighbour.

Cross-Channel ties have warmed under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a former banker like Macron whose relationship with the president has been dubbed a “bromance” by parts of the media.

But with his party struggling in the polls, the Conservative leader must call an election by January 2025 – even as he confronts stubborn challenges including inflation and irregular arrivals of migrants across the Channel.

Even so, Macron’s invitation was “not an endorsement, it’s not going to be a negotiation”, a European politics expert at French think-tank Institut Montaigne Georgina Wright told AFP ahead of his meeting with Starmer.

“It’s really just a question of meeting and hearing what Labour would do differently and that’s it,” she added, saying Macron would be “as much as he can in listening mode” but may also “highlight France’s priorities”.

“Macron does this all the time” but “never once has he endorsed a candidate” ahead of an overseas election, Wright noted – recalling his meetings with German candidates including now-Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his opponent Armin Laschet ahead of the 2021 election to the Bundestag.

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