LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson told France’s President Emmanuel Macron that talks on a post Brexit deal cannot drag on into the autumn, as the French leader visited London to mark the 80th anniversary of General de Gaulle’s call for wartime resistance,
Macron’s first trip outside France since the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the new rules of socially-distant diplomacy as the normally tactile pair posed two metres apart for photos.
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, Macron and Johnson also held wide-ranging talks agreeing on the need for a global response to the coronavirus crisis, and condemning China’s new security laws in Hong Kong.
But with less than six months until a Brexit transition arrangement expires, slow-moving trade talks with the EU inevitably featured prominently.
“(Johnson) underlined that the UK does not believe it makes sense for there to be prolonged negotiations into the autumn,” his office said.
Macron told Johnson France still supports reaching a deal.
Britain left the European Union on Jan. 31 but talks have so far made little progress. 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.
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.
The queen spoke to Macron over the phone during his visit, and Johnson later watched a flypast by British and French aerobatic teams with their red, white and blue vapour trails.
Macron 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.”
Thursday’s occasion poignantly coincided with the death of singer Vera Lynn at the age of 103, whose songs became symbols of hope in Britain during World War Two.
(Additional reporting by Michel Rose in Paris; Writing by Michael Holden and William James; Editing by Pravin Char, Giles Elgood and Stephen Addison)