King Charles’ first state visit of his reign has been postponed amid widespread French protests over President Emmanuel Macron’s retirement age reforms.
Charles and Camilla were due to begin their historic four-day trip to France on Sunday (26 March) but, after a night of violent nationwide demonstrations that led to hundreds of arrests and police officers being injured, the trip was shelved. The decision was taken after President Macron asked the British Government to postpone the visit, Downing Street said.
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. French unions had also called for nationwide pension protests next week, which would have coincided with the visit by the King and Queen Consort.
President Macron, who would have hosted the King and his wife, spoke to Charles on the phone this morning after discussions between the UK and French governments. But the postponement of the trip will be a major embarrassment to the French leader, his administration and Buckingham Palace, who had been planning the state visit for months.
Has the visit been cancelled?
King Charles and Queen consort Camilla were due to make the trip across the channel this weekend for their first state visit as the monarch. But due to the ongoing nationwide protests over President Macron’s decision to raise the pension age, it has been postponed.
When could Charles visit France?
The state visit has been postponed, but it is expected to be rearranged in the near future. Macron suggested the new date for the King’s visit to France would be in the “early summer”.
The French President told a press conference: “We have proposed that, in early summer, depending on our respective agendas, we can together arrange a new state visit.” He said it should be under conditions that will allow the monarch to “enjoy France”.
What has been said?
The French Presidency confirmed the postponement on Friday (24 March) morning. In a statement, the Elysee said: “In light of yesterday’s announcement of a new national day of action against pension reforms on Tuesday, 28 March, in France, the visit of King Charles III, originally scheduled for March 26 to 29 in our country, will be postponed.
“This decision was taken by the French and British governments after a telephone exchange between the President of the Republic and the King this morning, in order to be able to welcome His Majesty King Charles III in conditions that correspond to our friendly relationship. This state visit will be rescheduled as soon as possible.”
A spokesman for British Government added: “The King and Queen Consort’s state visit to France has been postponed. This decision was taken with the consent of all parties, after the President of France asked the British Government to postpone the visit.”
Buckingham Palace also confirmed the postponement in a statement: “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 (29 March) to Friday (31 March), and it is understood the visit to Berlin will proceed as planned.
Sir Peter Westmacott, a former British ambassador to France, said he could not think of any precedent after the King’s first state visit of his reign was postponed. He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme that he was “not entirely surprised” at the decision, but agreed it was a “big deal”.
He said that he expected the King to be disappointed about the decision, given his fondness for the country. Sir Peter said: “I know that he was very much looking forward to this visit. He has been to France 35 times officially, never mind a whole lot of private visits.
“He speaks French – you’ll hear him when the time comes making speeches in French, which I’m sure he will do beautifully. He’s very attached to the country. He’ll be saddened but he’ll get on with life, of course, there is no choice.”
More to follow.