King and Queen Consort's state visit to France postponed as retirement age protests continue

Chris Ship and Lucy Watson report from London and Paris respectively after the King postponed his state visit

The King and Queen Consort's visit to France has been shelved as protests over retirement age reforms continue across the country.

The French Presidency and Buckingham Palace confirmed the postponement on Friday morning.

Downing Street later confirmed that France's leader, Emmanuel Macron, had asked the British government to cancel the trip.

Mr Macron, who would have hosted the King and his wife, spoke to Charles on the phone during Friday morning after discussions between the UK and French governments.

But the postponement of the trip will be a major embarrassment to Mr Macron, his administration and Buckingham Palace, who had been planning the state visit for months. The royals were due to visit between Sunday, 26 March and Wednesday, 29 March. Mr Macron said the four-day state visit was likely to be rescheduled for the beginning of summer.

The French leader has faced fresh public anger for pushing through a bill raising the pension age to 64 without a vote in the National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament.

Tens of thousands of mainly peaceful demonstrators took to the streets of Paris on Thursday – the ninth day of nationwide protests.But violence erupted when French police clashed with black-clad, masked groups who targeted at least two fast food restaurants, a supermarket and a bank.

Across France, some 300 demonstrations drew more than a million people and resulted in 450 arrests.

It is understood the logistics of the state visit had been under review for some days and measures were being considered to reduce interactions with the public.

Mr Macron defended the decision, saying it would have lacked “sense” to stage the historic event when anti-pension reform protests were planned.

Speaking at a press conference after a summit in Brussels, he said: “From the moment last night when the unions announced a new day of mobilisation on Tuesday – and with the King’s visit planned from Monday to Wednesday – I think we wouldn’t be being serious, and we’d be lacking some sense, to propose His Majesty the King and the Queen Consort to come and make a state visit in the middle of the demonstrations.”

He said proceeding with Sunday’s visit “would have prompted incidents” that would have been “detestable”.

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 labour representatives, the CGT union, announced this week that its members at Mobilier National, the institution in charge of providing flags, red carpets and furniture for public buildings, would not help prepare a Sunday reception for the King upon his arrival in Paris.

The trip, which was to be followed by a state visit to Germany, was aimed at strengthening ties between Britain and its European neighbours.

Protesters were hit with tear gas during a demonstration in Lyon on Thursday Credit: AP
Protesters march during a rally in Paris on Thursday. Credit: AP
Uncollected rubbish was set in fire on Paris on Thursday. Refuse workers have also been striking over the retirement age bill. Credit: AP

A spokesperson for the Elysee Palace, the official residency of the French president, said the state visit will be rescheduled "as soon as possible".

The statement read: “In light of yesterday’s announcement of a new national day of action against pension reforms on Tuesday, March 28, 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 statement from Buckingham Palace confirmed the postponement, and added: "Their Majesties greatly look forward to the opportunity to visit France as soon as dates can be found."

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