French President Emmanuel Macron will meet Sir Keir Starmer in Paris on Tuesday, with the British opposition leader claiming he wants to get Britain “back on track with Brexit”.
Starmer told the Financial Times this weekend that he would seek a “better deal” on Brexit if he wins the next election, including by revisiting post-Brexit trade deals “Closer trading relations”.
The Labor leader will raise the UK’s relationship with the EU in his first meeting with Macron, but the Conservatives claim Starmer will “revisit past arguments”.
A Tory spokesman said: “Seven years after the referendum, Keir Starmer wants to get the UK back on track on Brexit and reopen the debates of the past.”
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told the Financial Times at the United Nations in New York that some in the EU believed Starmer was “delusional”. “I think there’s very little I can add,” he said.
Starmer’s visit to the Elysée marks the culmination of a week in which he has tried to introduce himself as prime minister-elect on the world stage, including a pledge to repair relations with the European Union.
Conservatives believe Starmer made a strategic mistake when he began speaking out about trying to improve the “too weak” trade deal struck by Boris Johnson after Brexit.
Lord Peter Ricketts, Britain’s former ambassador to France, said Macron would try to go far in cooperating with Starmer, who supported Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
“Politicians are generally interested in other rising politicians,” he said. “But I don’t think France or Germany are looking for a major leap forward in the UK’s relationship with the EU. They have a lot of other things to do.”
Starmer said the planned “implementation review” of Johnson’s trade and cooperation deal with the EU from the end of 2025 was an “important” moment, but Ricketts said Brussels now viewed it as more of a technical exercise .
Elysee Palace officials have been careful to treat the meeting as a normal part of the French president’s diplomatic schedule, who regularly meets with opposition leaders from other countries. There will be no joint press conference.
Since Rishi Sunak became prime minister, relations between Britain and France have improved after a low point under Boris Johnson, whom Paris viewed as unreliable Partner.
With negotiations between the UK and the EU over their post-Brexit relationship now settled, the source of tension between the two countries has eased, although illegal cross-Channel migration remains a thorny issue.
Georgina Wright, director of the European program at the Institut Montaigne think tank in Paris, said Macron was likely to be in listening mode during the meeting: “France and the rest of the EU don’t really know what Labor wants to do”.
She added: “Starmer needs to use this moment wisely to set out how a Labor government will be different not just on EU matters but on the global stage.”