French election: Who is Marine Le Pen and what happens if the Front National wins?

Harriet Agerholm
As voting drew to a close in round one of a bitterly contested presidential race, polling suggested Le Pen and centrist Emmanual Macron were in the lead: Getty

Marine Le Pen is closer than ever to winning the French presidency. In her six years in control of the Front National, she has taken a fringe political party – first spearheaded by her anti-Semitic father – detoxified it, and made it popular.

As it emerged Ms Le Pen was through to the run-off, along with centrist Emmanuel Macron, the far-right leader said: "The time has come to free the French people.”

But who is Marine Le Pen, and if she wins, what will it mean?

What is Ms Le Pen’s background?

Ms Le Pen entered politics in the shadow of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the Front National in 1972.

Over the years the 88-year-old has accrued more than 15 convictions by French courts for inciting religious hatred. He was eventually expelled from the party for repeatedly describing the gas chambers used in the Holocaust as "a detail of history".

Ms Le Pen and her father are now estranged, and have not spoken for two years.

Ms Le Pen, a twice-divorced mother-of-three, used to be an immigration lawyer – meaning she once defended those she has now vowed to keep out of France.

How has Front National changed under Ms Le Pen?

Ms Le Pen offers a more measured and charming message to her father's, although before assuming control of the party in 2010, she attracted controversy for comparing Muslims praying in the street to the German occupation. Her rhetoric has since softened.

What are Ms Le Pen's political attitudes?

She is a nationalist, and is consistently anti-EU and anti-immigration.

Although generally understood as a far-right politician, on social issues, she is not traditionally conservative.

She does not support France's movement against gay marriage, is not literal in her interpretation of Catholicism and has furiously defended women's right to abortion.

What would happen if the Front National is elected?

The party has no experience of government, so it is hard to tell, but – broadly speaking – France would increasingly work to keep foreigners out and Brussels would have reduced powers.

The Front National's policies include renegotiating the terms of France's EU membership and ultimately holding a referendum on membership of the bloc.

Thousands of new police would be brought in - though Ms Le Pen is not the only candidate to promise this - and tens of thousands more prison places would be created.

All undocumented immigrants would be expelled, Ms Le Pen says, and immigration would be cut to 10,000 a year.