French President Emmanuel Macron postponed The King’s first state visit amid fears for the monarch’s safety due to violent protests and death threats issued by protesters in France.
King Charles’s first state visit was dramatically called off yesterday amid fears for the monarch’s safety as violent protests continued to grip France.
Security sources said the risk to the royal couple helped to convince French President Emmanuel Macron to postpone the visit after protesters in France issued death threats to the monarch.
There were also concerns that police intelligence reports showed hate messages about the royal visit had been circulating on social media along with calls for pensions protesters to target and “spoil” the series of events.
In a humiliating climbdown, the beleaguered president asked for the diplomatic visit, designed to strengthen ties and forge a united European response to the threat of Russian aggression, to be pulled after the French trade union confederation called for a day of action on Tuesday.
Although his ministers publicly insisted they could have ensured the safety of the 74-year-old monarch and Queen Camilla, 75, President Macron admitted there was a risk of unsavoury scenes.
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”.
Hundreds of people were arrested after a night of violent nationwide demonstrations that left the streets ablaze. Protesters set fire to the entrance of the town hall in Bordeaux that Charles and Camilla were due to pass through.
The president and his allies had already received threats evoking the guillotine used to execute Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1793 in the aftermath of the French Revolution.
But it emerged yesterday that the words Death to the King had also appeared in bright red graffiti on Place de la Concorde – the central Paris square where Louis and his wife met their fate.
Another scrawled message read: “Charles III do you know the guillotine?”
The French feared The King’s safety could not be guaranteed, not least “because of his interest in mingling with crowds,” according to security sources.
The cancellation of King Charles’s first state visit abroad as monarch will not have gone down well, as he was determined to make the trip to France despite the protests.
Charles had been resolute to ensure he followed the well-known mantra: keep calm and carry on. While a few tweaks to the schedule were inevitable in response to the millions of protestors gathering across the country, a postponement will have been viewed as a surrender.
Demonstrations were also planned for a state banquet at the Palace of Versailles on Monday evening.
The thought of the President and his “cronies” dining with royalty at a plush banquet in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles while ordinary French people were protesting about having to work longer had infuriated the opposition.
And once the trade unions announced plans for a day of action during the state visit, the President knew the game was up.
Well-placed sources said he decided on Thursday to ask for the visit to be postponed. His officials contacted their counterparts at Downing Street and it was agreed on Thursday evening that the trip would be pulled once he had made a courtesy phone call to the King.
They spoke yesterday morning for around 15 minutes.
The King had been “looking forward” to the visit but was said to be sanguine about the dramatic turn of events, even though it cast a shadow over what was supposed to be a colourful curtain-raiser for the new reign ahead of the Coronation in May.
The final decision to postpone the trip was made jointly by the French and British governments and he was understood to be happy to do what they advised.
Buckingham Palace said in a curt statement: “The King and The Queen Consort’s state visit to France has been postponed.”
“Their majesties greatly look forward to the opportunity to visit France as soon as dates can be found.”
The French are suggesting re-arranging the state visit for the early summer. In the meantime, The King and Queen Camilla will press ahead with their second state visit, to Germany from Wednesday afternoon to Friday next week.
Comment by Emily Ferguson, Digital Royal Editor
A crack team of officers from the SDLP Protection Service unit rigorously studied the monarch’s profile.
“They became aware of The King’s habit of impromptu handshakes, and talking to ordinary people whenever he could,” said a source who was involved in the planning of four days of events from Sunday evening to Wednesday afternoon.
“There are huge social tensions in France, and there is no doubt that such good manners could have been very dangerous indeed.”
French and British officials were understood to be contemplating changing the programme to make it less public.
There had been concerns about planned protests during The King and Queen’s scheduled tram ride in Bordeaux on Tuesday.
Buckingham Palace had stayed defiant that the trip would go ahead as planned, but after calls between Paris and London on Thursday night, The King had no choice but to cave and accept that a postponement was the right cause of action.
It “lacked common sense” to plough ahead with the trip, President Marcon said, adding the situation was “abhorrent” to continue as planned.
But the decision comes at a cost, and Charles will not have approved of the move to cave to a baying mob.
France’s domestic situation hasn’t affected The King and Queen’s planned visit to Germany on Wednesday, which will now mark the first state visit of Charles’s reign.
But while The King may be annoyed at the change to his schedule, the real embarrassment rests with Emmanuel Macron.
He decided to raise the retirement age by two years without a parliamentary vote, prompting the chaos that has gripped the country for the past 10 days,
More than a million activists have taken to the streets, with violent, masked demonstrators starting fires and looting shops and restaurants.
Security officials felt the risk lay with the King’s propensity to walk up to crowds and offer them handshakes and brief conversations.
Officials are looking at the summer for the rescheduled trip, but it is likely to have a lesser impact after The King and Queen have been crowned and the political situation has calmed down months after the Windsor Agreement was formally ratified by both the UK and the EU.