Macron’s humiliation as royal state visit is first cancelled for unrest in nearly 50 years

Protest - Laurent Cipriani/AP
Protest - Laurent Cipriani/AP

The cancellation of the King’s planned trip to France is the first time a state visit has been called off because of civil unrest since 1979.

The decision underlines the turmoil in the country as protesters angered by Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms set parts of the country on fire.

In one incident, graffiti was daubed on a wall reading: “Charles III do you know the guillotine?"

Previously, state visits by the monarch have only called off because of serious ill-health or huge events such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and war in Iraq.

Over the weekend, protesters in France were expected to continue their nationwide demonstrations that have brought the country to a standstill.

There will also be another day of mass strike protests next Tuesday and some flights and trains will be cancelled.

The uproar over Mr Macron’s imposition of the reforms – which the government pushed through without a parliamentary vote – has turned into the biggest domestic crisis of the president’s second term in office.

French unions have announced fresh strikes and protests for Tuesday, which would have been the second full day of the King’s state visit.

Its abrupt postponement will be considered hugely embarrassing for Mr Macron, who extended an official invitation to the monarch when in London for Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral last September.

Graffiti - REUTERS
Graffiti - REUTERS

A presidential aide was quoted as saying in January: “It will be extremely symbolic because it will be the first official visit of Charles III.

“The fact that it will come before the King’s coronation shows how important France is to him.”

This marks the first time since the late Queen planned to go to Iran in 1979 that a state visit was cancelled due to civil unrest in the destination.

The Iranian stop of a three-week tour was cancelled when the Prime Minister James Callaghan concluded that her safety could not be ensured amid instability in the country.

The late Queen famously placed great importance on her state visits and they were seldom cancelled.

In 2001, the late monarch had to cancel a state visit to Australia and New Zealand in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks as world leaders focused on security concerns.

The decision was so hastily made that some staff had already flown to Canberra to begin preparing for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh's arrival.

In 2003, the Queen called off a state visit to Belgium because of the looming war in Iraq. On that occasion the decision was based on advice from Downing Street.

Separately, she also cancelled a 2013 visit to Rome after she was hospitalised with gastroenteritis and also  2009 state visit to Dubai and Abu Dhabi because of “other commitments".

Her father, George VI, was forced to postpone a trip to France in 1938 after his mother-in-law passed away five days before he was due to leave.

This time, however, King Charles’s state visit was postponed at the request of Mr Macron after the protests across the country became increasingly violent.

Protests - AP
Protests - AP

Leaked intelligence memos revealed that the French government was warned about the "high risks" of trouble in Versailles, where demonstrators were bent on "spoiling the princely moment".

The memos said the "social risk" of unrest had rocketed to a "very high level" following Mr Macron's television interview on Tuesday in which he stuck to his reformist guns and which many militants saw as an "act of war". Three-quarters of the French remain unconvinced by his explanations, a poll found on Friday.

Protesters had also expressed their intention to mobilise in Bordeaux which the King and Queen were expected to visit next Tuesday although they had said their goal was to exploit the international attention surrounding the visit rather than targeting the monarch in person.

After Thursday's violent protests in which 450 people were arrested and city centres were ransacked from Paris to Bordeaux, France is bracing for more trouble on Saturday.

Meanwhile, unions have urged the president to postpone his pensions reform for six months until things calm down. Speaking from Brussels, Mr Macron said the door was open to discuss other topics with unions but he ruled out tinkering with the reform.

Emmanuel Macron - REUTERS
Emmanuel Macron - REUTERS

Reacting to Thursday's violence, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally party, said: "Emmanuel Macron can no longer govern alone. From now on, he must go back to the people."

French MP Nicolas Dupont-Aignan said the postponement of the state visit constituted "a slap in the face for Emmanuel Macron”.

He added: “But when will he finally look reality in the face? There is an urgent need for a way out of the political crisis: withdrawal, referendum or dissolution."

However, not all French politicians agreed with this sentiment. Sandrine Rousseau, a Green MP, told BFMTV: "It's good that it's been postponed, it was barmy to make this visit in the midst of a social conflict of historic proportions.

"To go and eat in Versailles, to go down to the Champs-Élysée...it simply wouldn't wash. It is more important to heed protesters than roll out the red carpet for the King."

Manon Aubry, a Leftist MP, said: "The French people know how to scare all monarchs! Whether they are at Buckingham or at the Elysée."

His colleague in the Left-wing Unbowed France party Thomas Portes added: "No kings here. And now let's deal with the monarch Macron and his pension reform. It too will be cancelled."

Mr Macron suggested that the new date for the King’s visit to France would be in the “early summer”.

It comes after France was snubbed as a first choice visit by Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, who made Britain his premier destination, instead

French officials were forced into a face-saving scramble to arrange a last-minute stopover in Paris in early February before Mr Zelensky headed to Brussels the following day.