LONDON — French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in London on Thursday for his first foreign visit since Europe went into its coronavirus lockdown, in an early sign of borders reopening across the continent.
The nominal purpose of the visit was to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s historic radio broadcast from London on June 18, 1940, when he sounded the first call for French resistance to Nazi Germany in World War II.
Macron’s crossing of the English Channel was heavy with ceremony. There were flyovers, first in Paris and then in London, performed by Alpha jets from the French air force’s Patrouille de France and the Royal Air Force Red Arrows.
But social distancing requirements added a level of complication and awkwardness to all the stage-managed events.
Britain requires a two-week quarantine periods for most people coming into the country, and Macron’s delegation had to receive a special dispensation for Thursday’s short visit.
Both of the leaders Macron met — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles — were among the most prominent people to contract the coronavirus. Johnson battled the virus for nearly two weeks and spent several nights in an intensive care unit.
Macron was greeted Thursday at Clarence House in London by Prince Charles, alongside his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, who are emerging from months of isolation because of the pandemic.
Charles, 71, said this week that he has not fully recovered his sense of smell after having contracted the virus in March, the BBC reported.
The socially distanced meet-and-greet, and a cup of English tea, marked the first time that members of the royal family have staged a face-to-face “engagement,” as such events are called, since the lockdown began in March.
Later, Macron met Johnson at 10 Downing Street, where Johnson was to give his French counterpart framed copies of the telegrams exchanged between de Gaulle and Winston Churchill on V-E Day, Johnson’s office said.
But the pandemic — and especially the issue of travel — was likely to come up during the bilateral discussion between the two leaders.
On Monday, France joined much of Europe in officially reopening its borders. The French Foreign Ministry no longer requires a 14-day quarantine periods for most new arrivals from within the European Union. France will gradually reopen its borders to travelers from outside the E.U. starting July 1.
For now, in response to Britain’s blanket quarantine, France is asking visitors from the United Kingdom to voluntarily quarantine for two weeks.
The French president is expected to ask Johnson to revisit the British government’s quarantine policy, especially given the imbalance in death tolls between the two countries. As of Thursday, France had recorded 29,575 deaths from the coronavirus, while Britain has recorded 42,153.
Also hovering over the bilateral meeting was the issue of mounting French frustrations over stalled Brexit talks, although Macron appeared likely to save airing those concerns for a future E.U. meeting.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC on Thursday the despite all the tiffs between the two countries, over Brexit and quarantines, there really is nothing like neighbors.
McAuley reported from Paris.