LONDON (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron visits London on Thursday for a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of General de Gaulle’s call for wartime resistance, and also to discuss Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes France’s President Emmanuel Macron at the NATO leaders summit in Watford, Britain December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/Pool
It is Macron’s first trip outside France and one of the most high-profile visits by a foreign leader since countries across the globe imposed lockdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The main focus is for Macron to mark de Gaulle’s “Appel” of June 18, 1940, a radio address he made to the French nation from the BBC headquarters in London calling for resistance to the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two.
However, it also gives Macron and Johnson a chance to hold face-to-face talks to discuss their responses to the pandemic, including Britain’s 14-day quarantine of travellers from abroad, as well as ongoing post-Brexit negotiations.
Britain left the European Union on Jan. 31 but talks have so far made little progress to agree a new free trade deal with the bloc by the end of the year, when a status-quo transition arrangement ends.
Johnson and EU leaders say a deal is achievable, but both sides say time is running out and the prospect of a no-deal outcome remains.
“We’ve agreed on both sides to energise and intensify the talks, we don’t want to hang around, we’re not going to wait for this to be dragged out into the autumn and the winter,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told LBC radio.
Raab said Macron’s visit to London showed that, despite some difficulties in centuries of Franco-British relations, the two neighbours stood beside each other in times of need.
The French President will be welcomed by a guard of honour when he is hosted by Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, and his wife Camilla at their Clarence House home and there will be a flypast by the Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force’s aerobatic team, and their French counterparts, the Patrouille de France.
Macron will bestow the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest distinction, on London in recognition of the city’s wartime role while Britain will honour four French Resistance fighters: Edgard Tupet-Thome, 100; Daniel Cordier, 99; Hubert Germain, 99, and Pierre Simonet, 98.
The four will not be present, but will receive their awards in France later. The occasion has poignantly coincided with the death of singer Vera Lynn, known as the “Forces’ Sweetheart”, who became a symbol of hope in Britain during World War Two.
Editing by Giles Elgood and Pravin Char