Emmanuel Macron believes Sir Keir Starmer has the “moral authority” to be prime minister, a senior French source familiar with the pair’s private meeting in Paris on Tuesday has told The Telegraph.
The French president was impressed that the Labour leader did not make demands on issues such as Brexit or migration during the rare meeting of a national leader with the head of a foreign nation’s political opposition.
Mr Macron’s comments came as French and German ministers unveiled a proposal for the UK to take up “associate membership” of the European Union.
Under the plans for a four-tier EU, the UK would return to the single market, contribute to the bloc’s budget and be governed by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
Following the meeting with Sir Keir, who chose to discuss “major issues” such as the Transatlantic relationship rather than Britain’s exit from the EU, a senior French source said: “It’s interesting that he (Starmer) positioned himself differently and didn’t come over like a carpet salesman touting his wares with Macron on cooperation. It’s a point in his favour.
“This was an attempt by Starmer to impose himself as a true potential leader who manages the major issues of the day. That’s what Starmer came looking for and (Macron) gave him the impression that he could belong to the club.”
The source added: “Starmer came across as being someone very upright with a form of moral authority.”
Sir Keir said: “We had a very constructive and positive meeting, which as you can imagine covered a wide range of issues.
“It was my first opportunity to say how much I value the relationship between our two countries, particularly when it comes to prosperity and security and how, if we are privileged enough to be elected into power, we intend to build on that relationship and make it even stronger than it is today.”
The upbeat assessment will delight Sir Keir’s team after he and Mr Macron spent 45 minutes talking, ending a three-stop international trip building his global reputation.
Former prime minister Tony Blair used his contacts within the EU to help broker the meeting, according to a report by the Daily Mail citing Whitehall sources.
Sir Tony did not comment when approached by the Daily Mail about reports he helped to broker the meeting.
Sir Keir and Mr Macron talked about Donald Trump, the former US president seeking a return to the White House in the American election next year, as well as Ukraine and energy security.
The renegotiation of the Brexit deal that Sir Keir wants in 2025 if he reaches Downing Street was not discussed at length, nor was the small boats crisis.
Gifts were also exchanged. Sir Keir gave Mr Macron an Arsenal shirt with Macron and 25 on the back – he is France’s 25th president – and the Labour leader received cufflinks carrying the logo of the French Republic.
Mr Macron’s willingness to welcome Sir Keir to the French presidential palace was notable in a photograph released showing them warmly shaking hands.
The French president had a fraught relationship with Boris Johnson, one of the leading figures in bringing about the Brexit which destabilised the EU, when they were counterparts.
Mr Macron’s team once accused Mr Johnson of diplomacy by Twitter when the then prime minister posted a list of demands to counter the small boats crisis, one of a number of public spats.
The relationship between Mr Sunak and Mr Macron is markedly warmer in public, both men talking up cooperation, with a deal to curb English Channel crossings between them.
‘Capacity to be a leader’
The senior French source familiar with discussions told the Telegraph: “The meeting was much more about showing that (Starmer) had the capacity to be a leader.
“(Macron) was quite surprised... They really centred the meeting on major issues rather than smaller ones. They discussed the transatlantic relationship and how the UK positioned itself vis à vis the US, they talked about China and the changes in global trade rather than what came out in the press in recent days on cherry-picking and how to renegotiate the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation agreement.”
It came as the Europe ministers of France and Germany proposed a four-tiered European Union to integrate countries that aren’t “willing and/or able to join the EU in the foreseeable future”.
Under the plans, commissioned by Laurence Boone and Anna Lührmann, Britain could be invited into the third tier as an “associate member” of the EU.
“Associate members would not be bound to ‘ever closer union’ and further integration, nor would they participate in deeper political integration in other policy areas such as justice and home affairs or EU citizenship,” a report commissioned by the two powerful EU capitals says.
Countries that opt to join as associate members would be expected to contribute to the EU’s budget and be governed by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
“The basic requirement would be the commitment to comply with the EU’s common principles and values, including democracy and rule of law,” the report reads.
“The cost areas of participation would be the Single Market.”
Rewrite the existing Brexit deal
A Labour Party spokesman said: “Labour will seek a better deal for Britain. This does not involve any form of membership.”
Earlier this week Sir Keir vowed to seek a “closer trading relationship” with the EU if Labour wins the next generation election, saying he would seek to rewrite the existing Brexit deal when it is up for review in 2025.
Sir Tony Blair said there was scope for deeper cooperation with the EU in areas such as innovation, science and energy, but talked down rejoining soon.
He told Bloomberg: “Whether we get to a stage where Britain rejoins the European Union, I think that’s for a future time. Getting back in is a tricky, tricky negotiation.”
The Paris visit follows Sir Keir meeting Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, over the weekend and visiting the Hague last week to unveil his plan to reduce English Channel crossings.
On Wednesday Mr Macron will host the King and Queen, who are making a first state visit to France after it was delayed in March amid violent protests against the president’s pension reforms.