LONDON (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron visited London on Thursday for a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of General de Gaulle’s call for wartime resistance, and 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 coronavirus.
The main focus for Macron was to mark De Gaulle’s “Appel” of June 18, 1940, a radio address he made to the French nation from BBC headquarters in London calling for resistance to the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two.
However, it also means Macron and Johnson can hold face-to-face talks on responses to the pandemic, including Britain’s 14-day quarantine of travellers from abroad, as well as post-Brexit negotiations.
Britain left the European Union on Jan. 31 but talks have so far made little progress on a new free trade deal 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 was welcomed by a guard of honour as he was greeted by Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, and his wife Camilla at their Clarence House home.
They then laid wreaths at a statue to De Gaulle, while Macron also placed tributes at memorials to Queen Elizabeth’s parents, George VI, king during the war, and his wife also called Elizabeth.
Macron also bestowed the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest distinction, on London in recognition of the city providing a base for De Gaulle, while Britain has honoured four French Resistance fighters: Edgard Tupet-Thome, 100; Daniel Cordier, 99; Hubert Germain, 99, and Pierre Simonet, 98.
“That night, De Gaulle became the voice and the breath of Free France,” Macron said of the “Appel”.
“He raised the flame of the resistance higher than a beacon, so that its ray of hope, from the banks of the Thames, shine over the land of France. The man who would carry the destiny of a breathless country. From London. Thanks to London.”
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.
Additional reporting by Michel Rose in Paris; Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Pravin Char and Giles Elgood
Originally published on Reuters