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By Christina Georgaki
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Keir Starmer Could Become An Even More Important Ally For Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron announced the parliamentary elections on 9 June (Alamy)

5 min read

The surprise snap election in France could make it even more important for the winner of the UK General Election — currently expected to be Labour's Keir Starmer — to have a strong relationship with President Emmanuel Macron, according to a former ambassador to Paris.

Macron has called snap parliamentary elections to be held in France later this month, following European Parliament elections in which the French far-right National Rally (RN) party won large gains and obtained 31.4 per cent of the vote share, alongside growing support for other far-right parties across the continent.

The French president, who founded the liberal centrist party Renaissance, has made a huge gamble: the first poll since the election announcement shows RN could win up to 265 seats while support for Macron’s party could halve from 250 down to 125.

Under the French political system, if RN does emerge victorious at those elections then Macron would be forced to work with a far-right prime minister. According to former senior diplomat Lord Ricketts, this would be an "uncomfortable and difficult" domestic position for the French President to be in, and would make his relationship with whoever occupies 10 Downing Street even more important.

Ricketts, who was previously British Ambassador to France, said the UK prime minister could be an even important ally on the global stage if Macron is dealt this awkward political hand back home in France, where he would face significant pressure from the right wing.

“The French president has very strong powers in the areas of foreign policy, defence, national security, and so going into what they call a ‘cohabitation’ with a far-right prime minister would certainly be uncomfortable and difficult in domestic policy,” said Ricketts, who was also the UK’s National Security Advisor under former prime minister David Cameron, and Permanent Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during the New Labour years.

“I don't think it would have all that much effect on France's foreign policy… As long as we've got Macron, there will be a very powerful voice with a lot of constitutional power working for better relations, better defence relations, and working together on foreign policy."

Ricketts added that he had seen King Charles and Macron together at the D-Day memorial ceremony in Normandy last week: “They get on very well… and that will be very important through a turbulent time in French politics.”

If – as repeated opinion polls suggest is likely – Starmer's Labour secures a parliamentary majority at 4 July General Election, the UK's relationship with France would likely be a primary focus for David Lammy in his new role as foreign secretary.

“Clearly, if there was a far-right National Rally government working with Macron, there wouldn't be much natural sympathy between that government and an arriving Labour Party in the UK," Ricketts said.

"My advice would be to work first and foremost to nurture, cultivate relations with Macron.”

PoliticsHome understands that Lammy has already been trying to build connections with France’s most influential politicians – particularly those who have close connections with Macron, such as Renaissance parliamentarian Benjamin Haddad.

Labour leader Keir Starmer and members of his shadow cabinet including David Lammy (Alamy)
The Labour Party election manifesto stated it wanted to display "strength" on the world stage (Alamy)

With the newly published Labour manifesto emphasising the need for “strength” and close alliances, Lammy is understood to be particularly interested in realigning the UK with its historic connections with France, and has been closely studying the work of French experts such as Michel Duclos – a diplomat who has recently written about the need for the Western world to engage more closely with the ‘Global South’ and the importance of adhering to international legal obligations to maintain world peace and order.

If Labour is successful in less than three weeks' time, they will only have the weekend after polling day before heading straight to a NATO Summit in Washington DC, and then hosting a European Political Community meeting at Blenheim Palace in Oxford the week after.

“In terms of personal impact, it will be a real opportunity for the Prime Minister to make his presence felt, impose his own style,” Ricketts said. “By the end of July, a new British Prime Minister would have had several high profile opportunities to establish himself, without having to make any difficult policy judgments.”

With far-right support growing in Europe and the possibility of Donald Trump returning as US president in the autumn, Ricketts said “there might be a bit of a change in the balance of feeling across Europe”.

“That would be a very major event. The most important impact of a Trump arrival would be to really push Britain closer towards its European partners in lots of areas, starting in defence and security.”

In the UK, the latest YouGov voting intention survey has put right-wing party Reform UK one point ahead of the Conservatives, but Ricketts said he did not necessarily believe the rise of the far-right in Europe and the US would translate to a shift to the right in this country.

“The UK has had its experience with a quite right-wing populist party in the Conservative Party in the form it was under Boris Johnson… We'll see the result of the British elections, but it looks like the British electorate is moving away from an experience of a more populist style government,” he said.

“That's also been the case in Poland, where the emergence of the Donald Tusk government after years of a more populist right-wing government in Poland suggests that public opinion could move in both directions.

"So while it's moving in the direction of populism in France and Germany and has moved there in Italy, it's moving back the other way in Poland and maybe in the UK, so it's quite a mixed picture.”

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