LONDON (Reuters) – Far-right commentator and likely French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour sought on Friday to woo French voters living in London at an event to promote his new book in the British capital.
Zemmour, a former journalist known for his hardline anti-migration stance and euroscepticism who is shaking up the election campaign with his polarising language, spoke to a packed room of 400 at a hotel in Earls Court.
“You are the best of France, you are audacious to leave your country and I am proud of you,” he told the diverse crowd, which included wealthy businessmen and children.
An estimated 165,000 French citizens live in the United Kingdom, according to the Office of National Statistics.
His speech was held at the Ibis Hotel after London’s Royal Institution cancelled an event after conducting “due diligence” on Zemmour, who opinion polls suggest could reach a second-round runoff vote against President Emmanuel Macon, despite having yet to formally declare his candidacy.
Zemmour praised Britain for leaving the European Union but dodged multiple questions about whether he would advocate for “Frexit”
Several French protesters gathered outside but he received a warm welcome in the hall, as some attendees chanted “Zemmour is alive”.
“I am here because I am curious,” said Julien Prychinzki, a 33-year-old from Toulouse who has lived in east Londonfor eight years.
“What resonates with me is his lucid assessment of the decline of France. We have significant problems and we are in a country that doesn’t know where it’s going – when you live abroad you understand this even more.”
Virginie Waldron, 33, came from Dorset in southwest England, saying she supports Zemmour because she is scared about crime levels in France.
“I don’t see any alternatives,” she told Reuters. “All the people that are running have been there for 15 years. They have all failed miserably, they all have the same politics.”
After a decade in Britain, Waldron said she would move back to France if Zemmour ran for president and won.
(Reporting by Victor Jack; editing by Jane Wardell)