King Charles’s France visit postponed after pension protests

Source: BBC

King Charles III’s state visit to France has been postponed, after a request by President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street says.

The Elysée Palace said the decision was taken jointly, due to a 10th day of pension protests next Tuesday.

The trip to Paris and Bordeaux had been due to begin on Sunday, but France saw some of the worst violence on Thursday since demonstrations began in January.

Buckingham Palace said the delay was due to the “situation in France”.

In a statement, it said: “Their Majesties greatly look forward to the opportunity to visit France as soon as dates can be found.”

The UK government added the decision had been “taken with the consent of all parties, after the President of France asked the British Government to postpone the visit”.

President Emmanuel Macron spoke to the King on Friday morning, the Elysée Palace said, adding the state visit would be rescheduled as soon as possible, “so that his majesty will be welcomed in conditions which correspond to our friendly relationship”.

The decision to cancel the visit is a significant loss of face for France and for President Macron. This was supposed to have been a showcase for France, introducing the new monarch to the best of French life and cementing a newly awakened friendship.

But the protests made the trip impossible. Several French cities saw violence on the sidelines of Thursday’s largely peaceful protests that attracted more than a million people.

The entrance to the town hall in Bordeaux was set alight. In the capital, tear gas was fired and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said 903 fires were lit, in a city where refuse has been left uncollected since 6 March.

There is no question this was a last-minute postponement. For much of Friday morning, French officials had sought to reassure the public that the state visit, from 26 to 29 March, would take place and that security was in place. Some UK journalists had already travelled to Paris to cover the event.

This was a hugely important trip: a first state visit and to one of the UK’s closest and oldest allies.

The King and Camilla, the Queen Consort, were due to ride along the Champs-Elysées in the heart of Paris and have a banquet at Versailles with President Macron. Camilla was due to open an art exhibition at one of the main Paris attractions, the Musée d’Orsay. They were then expected to head to Bordeaux.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said earlier on Friday that there were “no known threats” to the King, and Bordeaux Mayor Pierre Hurmic said the trip to his city had been adapted so it “can go ahead under the best security, so as not to expose the King to the slightest difficulty”.

However, facing the prospect of showing the King through rubbish- and graffiti-strewn streets, with every public appearance smothered in security, and every movement threatened by strikes, the French president made the obvious choice. It may have been a joint decision with the UK government, but he was the one under pressure.

Domestically, the image would have played badly for the president. Dining with a king in Versailles at such a time could have played rather too directly into the hands of his detractors.

A TV interview that President Macron gave on the eve of Thursday’s national action appeared to galvanise protesters when he described the government’s reforms as an economic necessity, saying he was prepared to accept the resulting unpopularity.

His government decided on Monday to force through the reforms, which raise the pension age from 62 to 64 and extend contributions by workers to 43 years. As the president and prime minister realised they would struggle to pass the law in the National Assembly, they resorted to a constitutional power to bypass a vote.

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