President Emmanuel Macron is set to break with protocol and meet UK Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer at the Elysée Palace next week in a meeting that has as yet not received media coverage in France.
The meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, September 19, has not been covered by the mainstream French press, a potential sign that France is less interested and invested in the event.
The discussion will take place shortly before King Charles III is set to travel to France on an official visit.
The meeting is unusual, as the president would normally only meet with a leader from the same ‘political family’ as his own - for example, a right-centre party. Labour is obviously considered to be more left-wing.
Yet, President Macron reportedly accepted the meeting as a way to protect the ‘strategic nature’ of France’s relationship with Britain, and to maintain links with whoever may be leader after the UK’s next general election. The meeting is also reported to be a way for Sir Keir to see how his policies are received in France.
Mr Macron is said to have informed UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that the meeting was taking place, when the two heads of state met at the G20 event in India last week. The two are said to have a good relationship.
A senior source from the Elysée told The Telegraph: “We are 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.”
The source said that there were several topics to broach during the discussion, including: “What is our vision of UK-France relations tomorrow? What do we do with Brexit? What are we doing with the European Union? What are we doing in terms of defence?
“Does he want to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement (from the EU) and how does he globally see relations with Europeans tomorrow? It is usual for us to be able to address such questions of a strategic nature, with strategic partners, ahead of an important election.”
Also set to attend are Sir Keir’s new Chief of Staff, Sue Gray; Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, and Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy. After meeting Mr Macron, Sir Keir will then travel to the Hague and Montreal in a bid to build better international links.
“It’s not unusual for opposition leaders to do this, at least not in the run-up to an election,” said Catherine Haddon of the think tank Institute for Government, to the UK press.
“The calculation is between looking like you are an alternative government-in-waiting, versus looking presumptive. 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.”
This is not the first time that Sir Keir has met other heads of state during his time as Labour leader. He has also recently met German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the then-Irish Premier Micheal Martin, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.