QUENTIN LETTS: British voters seeing what Sir Keir Starmer is made of

QUENTIN LETTS: British voters are finally seeing what Sir Keir Starmer is made of. Once a Euro fanatic, always a Euro fanatic

The President of France, defying advice against meddling in another country’s domestic affairs, gave the leader of the Opposition a morale-boosting audience. Red carpet. Sentries in toy-soldier kepis. Garlicky air-kisses. ‘Bienvenue a l’Elysee, mon ami!’ The visitor was an adenoidal plodder but the president agreed to help because they had much in common on European matters and it was always fun to annoy Downing Street. ‘The tide is turning,’ crowed Labour spin doctors. An unpopular Tory PM was ‘isolated’ and ‘discredited’.

That was 11 years ago. Ed Miliband rode to Paris on Eurostar, posed for over-excited snaps and was given a few minutes with President Francois Hollande. Leftwingers claimed the French saw Miliband as a winner. ‘Britain’s place is firmly in Europe,’ cried Miliband to Gallic cheers.

Things did not work out terribly well for Miliband so now we have had ‘take two’: Sir Keir Starmer in the French capital to see Emmanuel Macron. Back in 2012, Macron was one of Hollande’s aides. M Macron has never liked the perfidious British and recent events have only worsened his temper. Mention Brexit and it’s like Chief Inspector Dreyfus hearing the name of Clouseau in the Pink Panther films. One eye starts twitching terribly. Dreyfus ends up in a loony bin.

Now we have had ‘take two’: Sir Keir Starmer in the French capital to see Emmanuel Macron (pictured together)

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer attends a breakfast meeting in central Paris ahead of his bilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on September 19

Sir Keir, accompanied by the Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy (ah, the brains of the operation) arrived in Paris on Monday and were photographed striding out of the Gare du Nord. In the background a few onlookers kept their distance. They possibly feared the nasal knight – le chevalier congestionne – might try to start speaking French.

Labour spinners set up one of those call-of-destiny shots they love. The trio tilted their heads upwards in the same direction, like cyclists waiting for a red traffic light to change colour. Further photocalls ensued yesterday morning. One was a beaut’. Sir Keir, Ms Reeves and Brains stood overlooking the Arc de Triomphe and ‘shared a joke’ while standing at a wobbly table with coffee cups. Wooden as Silas Wegg’s leg it all was. Sir Keir was also photographed meeting French technocrats at breakfast. Croissants.

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Then came the great encounter at the Elysee palace. It lasted 45 minutes and (phew) was conducted in English. As when you want poodles to mate, the door was closed and they were left to it by themselves, with no onlookers present. How they managed without Mr Lammy’s foreign-policy expertise, we can but wonder.

Sir Keir presented M Macron with an Arsenal FC shirt emblazoned with his name and the number 25 because he is the 25th French president. Straight into the ‘raffle prizes’ drawer that’ll go. M Macron, having possibly forgotten to buy anything, palmed Sir Keir a box containing cufflinks.

A slightly breathless Sir Keir afterwards gushed that it had been a ‘very, very good meeting, very political’. Political? The meeting certainly gave Sir Keir a chance to project an image of statesman-in-the-making, an understandable ambition at this stage in the electoral cycle. Owing to lockdown and his political inexperience, he has done little of this sort of thing. That was why he jetted to Canada last weekend to join a dreary conference of Left-wing political figures including Justin Trudeau and such has-beens as Tony Blair, David Miliband and the ex-premiers of New Zealand, Finland and Sweden.

It is also why he travelled to The Hague last week to unveil his immigration policy to EU lawyers. That trip betrayed Sir Keir’s naivety in international dealings. Barely was he out of the door at Europol, looking all shiny-chinned, than EU sources rubbished his trip and said he hadn’t a hope of extracting concessions from Brussels.

Sir Keir presented M Macron with an Arsenal FC shirt emblazoned with his name and the number 25 because he is the 25th French president

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer (left) speaks with Vivendi CEO Arnaud de Puyfontaine (right) and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves (centre) during a breakfast meeting ahead of their bilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron

‘But I’m one of the good people,’ Sir Keir may squeak. ‘I tried to stop Brexit for you. I wear underpants decorated with blue EU flags.’ Little good it will do him. Before entering that private room with handsy Emmanuel, Sir Keir spoke of his desire to renegotiate the deal whereby Boris Johnson, to his enormous credit, finally extracted us from the EU. Brussels did not play hardball simply because it hated Boris.

For their own survival, eurocrats wanted to punish Britain, even if in the process the bloc hurt itself. The main EU economies are tanking. The continent is blighted by terrible security and social problems. We really are well shot of it. Macron was here trying to take ownership of innocent Sir Keir and milk him about his plans.

The only way Sir Keir could extract any ‘improved’ Brexit deal would be to give some of our hard-won freedoms back to Brussels. It would have to be a big gesture; even then it would probably not be enough. Next time he might not even get a box of cufflinks.

All he may achieve by this flurry of baby-steps diplomacy is electoral self-harm. British voters are seeing what he is made of. Once a Euro-fanatic, always a Euro-fanatic. But now he has lost his blushes to a notoriously anglophobic French president. He’s been had.

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