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Macron suggests anti-pension reform protests forced him to cancel King's visit

French President Emmanuel Macron, watched by the then-Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall during a ceremony at Carlton Gardens in London during his visit to the UK in 2020 (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Tony Jones, PA Court Correspondent

President Emmanuel Macron has defended postponing the King’s historic state visit to France, saying it would have lacked “sense” to stage the historic event when anti-pension reform protests were planned.

Charles and Camilla were due to begin the first state visit of the King’s reign on Sunday but after a night of violent nationwide demonstrations that led to hundreds of arrests and police officers being injured, the trip was shelved.

The French leader said the four-day state visit was likely to be rescheduled for the beginning of summer, after Downing Street confirmed earlier that Mr Macron had asked the British Government to postpone the trip.

Speaking at a press conference after a summit in Brussels, President Macron said: “From the moment last night when the unions announced a new day of mobilisation on Tuesday – and with the King’s visit planned from Monday to Wednesday – I think we wouldn’t be being serious, and we’d be lacking some sense, to propose His Majesty the King and the Queen Consort to come and make a state visit in the middle of the demonstrations.”

He said proceeding with Sunday’s visit “would have prompted incidents” that would have been “detestable”.

Images of the town hall of Bordeaux – a city the royal couple were due to visit – set alight by protesters on Thursday evening was symbolic of the fury felt by some at the reforms, which have led to nine consecutive days of protest.

Reports claim more than a million people took to the streets across France on Thursday during the biggest demonstrations since Mr Macron pushed through a Bill raising the retirement age to 64 without a vote in the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament.

King’s state visit to France postponed
President Macron would have hosted the King during the state visit (Jane Barlow/PA)

The French leader, who would have hosted the King and his wife, spoke to Charles on the phone during Friday morning after discussions between the UK and French governments.

But the postponement of the trip will be a major embarrassment to Mr Macron, his administration and Buckingham Palace, who had been planning the state visit for months.

Buckingham Palace confirmed the postponement in a statement, saying: “The King and the Queen Consort’s State Visit to France has been postponed.

“Their Majesties greatly look forward to the opportunity to visit France as soon as dates can be found.”

Charles and Camilla were due to travel from France to Germany for a state visit from next Wednesday to Friday, and it is understood the visit to Berlin will proceed as planned.

Protesters scuffle at the end of a rally in Paris on Thursday
Protesters scuffle at the end of a rally in Paris on Thursday (Christophe Ena/AP)

Downing Street also confirmed the postponement, with a Government spokesperson saying: “This decision was taken with the consent of all parties, after the president of France asked the British Government to postpone the visit.”

Joe Little, the managing editor of Majesty Magazine, said “Certainly, there must be, you would imagine, at high level a degree of embarrassment that they have had to suggest the visit is postponed because of the national unrest within their country.

“It presents a bad image externally, but such is life.”

It is understood the trip’s logistics had been under review for some days and measures were being considered to reduce interactions with the public.

The state visit was aimed at strengthening ties between Britain and its continental neighbour using the “soft diplomacy” deployed by members of the royal family.

Protesters shield with umbrellas as they scuffle with riot police during a rally in Nantes
Protesters shield with umbrellas as they scuffle with riot police during a rally in Nantes (Jeremias Gonzalez/AP)

But Charles and Camilla would have arrived in Paris just as Mr Macron was bracing himself for further public protests which would have tarnished the image of France while the world was watching.

Lord Ricketts, who was the UK’s ambassador to France during the Queen’s final state visit to the country in 2014, told Sky News any disruption by demonstrators to Charles’s state visit would have “cast a real shadow over it”.

Commenting on the suggestion the planned state banquet at the Palace of Versailles would have jarred with people striking for workplace rights, he said: “It was going to be a great visit in different times.

“Now it jars with the angry mood in France – of course, that anger is not directed at King and Queen. It’s directed at President Macron and his government, but nonetheless, they could have been caught up in it.

“And if there’d been embarrassing incidents during the visit of, I don’t know, blockades or things going wrong in the programme because of the protesters and the demonstrators – we’ve all seen the pictures of the fires and so on in Paris – that would have cast a real shadow over it.”