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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is to embark on his biggest move yet on the world political stage, attending a gathering of centre-left leaders in Canada this weekend and meeting French president Emmanuel Macron next week.
Starmer has been focused on domestic issues since taking the helm of the UK’s main opposition party in 2020, but this month he will attempt to sharpen his foreign policy stance and burnish his credentials as a potential prime minister.
Macron last weekend informed Rishi Sunak, UK prime minister, on the margins of the G20 summit in New Delhi that he would be meeting Starmer in Paris.
While the French president has regularly met opposition leaders of countries with close ties to France, the meeting is a coup for Starmer.
A Remainer in the Brexit referendum, Starmer hopes to refashion Britain’s relationship with the EU if he wins the general election expected next year.
Starmer’s allies were also delighted that the meeting, expected to take place early next week, was in the works. “It’s great news,” said one.
Ahead of the Élysée Palace meeting, Starmer will attend a meeting of centre-left leaders and politicians in Montreal on Friday and Saturday, where he is expected to set out his foreign policy stance.
Other attendees will include Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s prime minister, and Jacinda Ardern, former prime minister of New Zealand.
The meeting has echoes of the “Third Way” conferences organised by Sir Tony Blair, former UK prime minister, and Bill Clinton, former US president, in the late 1990s.
Blair, who on Wednesday told the Financial Times that Starmer would inherit a country “in a mess” if he won power, will also be at the Montreal meeting.
Sunak met Macron in March at a bilateral summit that was characterised as something of a “bromance” between the two former bankers, both in their forties. The meeting resulted in a new agreement to help curb cross-Channel migration.
The deal, under which the UK will pay France €541mn (£478mn) over three years, is part of a larger effort during the past year by both sides to rebuild relations after the tumultuous Brexit period, during which Macron and then prime minister Boris Johnson often clashed.
The diplomatic and historic relationship between the two countries will also be on display next week when King Charles makes a three-day state visit to France, which will include a dinner at the Versailles palace and a speech in the Senate.
Number 10 said on Wednesday of Macron’s meeting with Starmer: “It’s not unusual for opposition leaders to meet world leaders.”
But the fact that Macron is rolling out the red carpet for Sunak’s main electoral opponent will cause irritation in Conservative circles.
One Tory official reflected that Ed Miliband, former Labour leader, met then French president François Hollande in 2012. “Look how that turned out,” the official said, alluding to Miliband’s loss in the 2015 election.
Starmer’s meeting with Macron next week is not his first with a major world leader; last year he met Olaf Scholz, German chancellor, who belongs to the Social Democrats, Labour’s sister party. Starmer’s spokesperson declined to comment.
David Cameron, former Conservative prime minister, met Angela Merkel, Scholz’s predecessor, in Berlin before entering Downing Street in 2010.