Ludovic Marin, AFP | Roses have been laid near Notre-Dame-de Paris Cathedral a day after a fire devastated the cathedral in central Paris on April 16, 2019.

We will rebuild’: Macron vows to retore Notre-Dame within five years

President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild Notre-Dame “even more beautifully” within five years, as all of France’s cathedrals prepared to ring their bells on Wednesday to mark 48 hours since the colossal fire began.

The blaze on Monday gutted the great Paris landmark destroying the roof, causing the steeple to collapse and leaving France reeling with shock.

Emmanuel Macron announced the fast timescale for restoration — a process some experts said would take decades — in an address to the nation where he hailed how the disaster had shown the capacity of France to mobilise and unite.

Pledges worth around 700 million euros ($790 million) have already been made from French billionaires and businesses to restore the Gothic masterpiece.

An unknown number of artefacts and paintings have been lost and the main organ, which had close to 8,000 pipes, has also suffered damage.

But the cathedral’s walls, bell towers and the most famous circular stained-glass windows at France’s most visited tourist attraction remain intact.

Macron’s defiant comments indicated he wants the reconstruction of the cathedral to be completed by the time Paris hosts the Olympic Games in 2024.

“We will rebuild the cathedral even more beautifully and I want it to be finished within five years,” Macron said from the Elysee Palace. “And we can do it.”

Macron said that the dramatic fire had brought out the best in a country riven with divisions and since November shaken by sometimes violent protests against his rule.

“Our history never stops and that we will always have trials to overcome,” he added.

The bells of all cathedrals in France will sound at 6:50 pm (1650 GMT) on Wednesday, 48 hours after the fire started.

‘Saved in half an hour’

Images from inside the cathedral showed its immense walls standing proud, with statues still in place and a gleaming golden cross above the altar.

However the floor was covered in charred rubble from the fallen roof and water while parts of the vaulting at the top of the cathedral had collapsed.

Junior interior minister Laurent Nunez told reporters at the scene that work to secure the structure would continue into Thursday, allowing firefighters access to remove remaining artefacts and artworks.

He said the building had been saved within a critical time window of 15-30 minutes by a team of 400 firefighters who worked flat out through the night.

Though “some weaknesses” in the 850-year-old structure had been identified, overall it is “holding up OK”, he added.

Renovation work on the steeple, where workers were replacing its lead covering, is widely suspected to have caused the inferno.

Investigators interviewed witnesses and began speaking with employees of five different construction companies that were working on the monument, said public prosecutor Remy Heitz.

“Nothing indicates this was a deliberate act,” Heitz told reporters, adding that 50 investigators had been assigned to what he expected to be a “long and complex” case.

A public appeal for funds drew immediate support from French billionaires and other private donors as well as from countries including Germany, Italy and Russia which offered expertise.

French billionaire Bernard Arnault and his LVMH luxury conglomerate, rival high-end designer goods group Kering, Total oil company and cosmetics giant L’Oreal each pledged 100 million euros or more.

Support came from outside France as well, with Apple chief Tim Cook announcing the tech giant would give an unspecified amount.

But experts had warned a full restoration will take many years.

“I’d say decades,” said Eric Fischer, head of the foundation in charge of restoring the 1,000-year-old Strasbourg cathedral.

Treasures evacuated

Thousands of Parisians and tourists watched in horror Monday as flames engulfed the building and rescuers tried to save as much as they could of the cathedral’s treasures.

Many more came Tuesday to the banks of the river Seine to gaze at where the roof and steeple once stood.

A firefighter suffered injuries during the blaze, which at one point threatened to bring down one of the two monumental towers on the western facade of the cathedral that is visited by 13 million tourists each year.

The Holy Crown of Thorns, believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion, was saved by firefighters, as was a sacred tunic worn by 13th-century French king Louis IX.

Rescuers formed a human chain at the site of the disaster to evacuate as many artefacts as possible, which were then stocked temporarily at the Paris town hall.

Notre Dame fire – updates: Paris cathedral could take decades to be rebuilt after ‘tragedy with a European dimension’

Millions pledged to help restoration work as world reacts to devastation

The fire which devastated, Notre Dame cathedral, thought to have been caused by an accident rather than arson, the public prosecutor has said, as investigators work to establish what led the centuries-old architectural masterpiece to be consumed by flames.

Wealthy French benefactors have pledged hundreds of millions of euros to rebuild the famous building after its roof and spire were ravaged by the blaze.

However, architects have warned the work to repair the building could take decades.

Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth II have led a global outpouring of grief for the cathedral, as work begins on assessing the damage following firefighters’ 14-hour battle to extinguish flames.

Donald Trump has expressed condolences to French president Emmanuel Macron over the Notre Dame fire during a phone call on Tuesday and offered US assistance in the rehabilitation of the cathedral, the White House said.
“Notre Dame will continue to serve as a symbol of France, including its freedom of religion and democracy,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “We remember with grateful hearts the tolling of Notre Dame’s bells on 12 September, 2001, in solemn recognition of the tragic 11 September attacks on American soil. Those bells will sound again.”

Historic England has offered to support France’s efforts to restore Notre Dame Cathedral.
Chief executive Duncan Wilson said: “We are shocked and devastated by the terrible fire at Notre Dame de Paris and the extent of damage to one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe – a symbol of France and an extraordinary example of Gothic architecture. “We are in contact with friends and colleagues in France and stand ready to offer any support that might assist in the challenging work that lies ahead to secure Notre Dame and plan for its future.”

Opinion: Notre Dame shows the raw power of cathedrals – just as the far right tries to hijack Christianity

Extremists are increasingly using the church as a symbol of a white immigrant-free Europe that must be salvaged at all costs

Queen Elizabeth’s oldest son, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, said he too was “utterly heartbroken” to learn of the fire. Charles, who has expressed strong feelings about protecting traditional architecture, said in a message to Mr Macron: “I realise only too well what a truly special significance the cathedral holds at the heart of your nation; but also for us all outside France it represents one of the greatest architectural achievements of Western Civilisation.”
He added: “It is a treasure for all mankind and, as such, to witness its destruction in this most dreadful conflagration is a shattering tragedy, the unbearable pain of which we all share.”

Queen Elizabeth has sent a message to French president Emmanuel Macron to say she was deeply saddened by the fire which engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral and that her prayers were with all of France, Buckingham Palace said. “Prince Philip and I have been deeply saddened to see the images of the fire which has engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral,” Queen Elizabeth’s message said. “I extend my sincere admiration to the emergency services who have risked their lives to try to save this important national monument. “My thoughts and prayers are with those who worship at the Cathedral and all of France at this difficult time.”

Czech president Milos Zeman is offering France the expertise and assistance of leading Czech specialists.
In a letter to his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, Mr Zeman said the Czech Republic is, like France, a country with many Gothic and medieval historic buildings and palaces. Mr Zeman said “the fire of Notre Dame affects us all”. Mr Zeman offered teams of top restoration experts that work at Prague Castle, the historic seat of Czech presidency, which includes St Vitus Cathedral, a Gothic architectural masterpiece. Czech prime minister Andrej Babis said his country is also ready to send France financial assistance.

French interior minister Christophe Castaner said there are still some risks that may endanger the structure of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Mr Castaner told reporters after a brief visit to the cathedral it is “under permanent surveillance because it can still budge”. He added that state employees will need to wait 48 hours before being able to safely enter the cathedral and take care of the art works that are still there. Some were too big to be transferred. Mr Castaner said: “We will be standing at [Notre Dame’s] bedside.”

Our shock at the damage to Note Dame is “to do with the sudden and gaping loss of something we assumed was permanent”, writes architecture critic Jay Merrick

The burning of Notre Dame is proof that truly great architecture has a hallucinatory power.

Bells at churches and cathedrals across England are to be rung in solidarity with France, Downing Street has announced.

The bells at Westminster Abbey will toll at 5.43pm this evening to mark the moment the fire began.

Other churches and cathedrals across the country will follow suit on Thursday.

Theresa May said the gesture would “underline our solidarity with France and her people”.

Experts from Historic England are also coordinating with colleagues across the UK heritage sector to make an offer of support to their French counterparts once the damage has been assessed.

The prime minister said: “Notre Dame is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world – a symbol of France and the French people, and cherished across the globe. The images of destruction we saw last night were truly heart-rending.

“President Macron has pledged to rebuild the cathedral and I have conveyed to him that the UK will support this endeavour however we can.

“When it comes to the task of rebuilding, French craftsmen and women are among the finest in the world. As they prepare to embark on this daunting task, we stand ready to offer any UK experience and expertise that could be helpful in the work that lies ahead to restore this magnificent cathedral.”

French energy company Total has pledged €100m (£87m) towards Notre Dame repairs, bringing the total amount of funding offered by businesses and tycoons to more than €600m (£519m).

The oil and gas giant said it would donate “to help the construction of this architectural jewel”.

L’Oreal, the French cosmetics firm, has pledged to give the same amount to rebuild “a symbol of French heritage and of our common history.”

Rival billionaire fashion tycoons Francois-Henri Pinault and Bernard Arnault, earlier pledged €100m and €200m (£174m) respectively.

Emmanuel Macron to hold a full day of cabinet meetings fully dedicated to the aftermath of the fire tomorrow.

The French president’s office said a morning session would be followed by another in the afternoon focusing on the national fund-raising campaign and reconstruction work. 

Mr Macron is to speak by phone with Pope Francis later today. 

He has postponed a speech and a news conference aimed at responding to the yellow vest crisis for an indefinite period, to respect “a moment of great national emotion.”

Mr Macron was initially planning to announce measures this week addressing the concerns of anti-government protesters. 

The French Bishops’ Conference says that the bells of all cathedrals across the country will ring on Wednesday at 6.50pm, the time when the fire started on Monday.
On Tuesday the Bishops’ Conference said in a statement that this will show the solidarity of all dioceses toward Paris and said the fire at Notre Dame “is a shock that affects far beyond just the Catholics of our country.”
France has 103 Catholic cathedrals.

French interior minister Christophe Castaner has arrived at Notre Dame to see the damage caused by the fire and speak to firefighters who worked to extinguish the blaze.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has said the company will donate to help restore Notre Dame.

French firefighters have sent a drone over Notre Dame to survey the damage caused by the blaze.

Denis Jachiet, deputy bishop of the cathedral, said there would be no Easter celebrations in Notre Dame this year.
He said: “It’s impossible to enter into the cathedral so these religious celebrations will take place in other churches. “For the religious I think there is really an invitation to prayer and the internalisation of this situation.” He continued:The fire department told us that they at first tried to confine this blaze, it was impossible to put it out – no human could have done that. But it was certainly possible to contain it. They battled to contain it to preventing from spreading from the interior of the spire. They succeeded in saving the tower and therefore saved the facade. The bishop said the emergency services had worked through the night to remove works of art and take them to safe keeping. I feel the greatest sadness for this disaster. In around one hour it destroyed something that had spanned almost nine centuries.

European Council president Donald Tusk said the message of encouragement to France after the Notre Dame Cathedral fire should be that “it’s not the end of the world” and that the damage will be repaired.
Mr Tusk told Polish reporters in Strasbourg after a European Parliament debate on Brexit it was the duty of all Europeans and all Poles to give France courage after this “dramatic” event. Recalling his native Poland’s efforts to rebuild its cities, many reduced to rubble, after the Second World War, Mr Tusk said his compatriots “have the right and the duty to say – ‘You will manage, this is not the end of the world'”.

French cosmetics group L’Oreal, along with owners the Bettencourt Meyers family and a linked charitable foundation, have said they will donate €200m (£172m) for repairs to the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The director of Unesco has said expert work must be carried out immediately to protect Notre Dame Cathedral’s remaining structure.
Audrey Azoulay said it is too early to say whether the treasured rose windows of Notre Dame are unscathed because art experts have not been able to study the site yet. She said the first 24-48 hours are crucial to protecting the stone and wood structure from water damage and assessing next steps. She warned parts of the cathedral remain “extremely fragile”, notably hundreds of tonnes of scaffolding set up around the cathedral spire that collapsed. She said Notre Dame has “a particular place in the world’s collective imagination”. Notre Dame is part of a Unesco heritage site that includes the surrounding quais and islands, and Unesco has offered its expertise to help rebuild.

Jean-Marc Fournier, the chaplain of Paris fire brigade, has been hailed as a hero entering the burning Notre Dame cathedral to recover the famous Crown of Thorns.


Mr Fournier insisted on being allowed to enter the edifice with fire fighters and played a role in the relic’s rescue, according to Philippe Goujon, mayor of Paris’s 15th district.


The chaplain’s bravery had previously been noted after the November 2016 Bataclan terror attack, when he tended to the injured at the music venue and prayed over the dead.

Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” has rocketed to the top of the bestseller list of Amazon in France in its original version. 
Meanwhile, the English translation of the 1831 novel is also number one in sales in the category of historical fiction. 
Telling the story of Quasimodo, a deformed bell-ringer of the cathedral in the 15th century, the book helped rally support for Notre Dame’s massive renovation later in the 19th century. 
Campaigning for the preservation of the cathedral, Hugo described it as crumbling and marked by “countless defacements and mutilations,” contributing to alert the public about the issue. 

British defence secretary Gavin Williamson has responded to MPs’ concerns that parliament could suffer a similar fate to Notre Dame.

Politicians including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had urged for the Paris blaze to act as a warning over the crumbling Westminster estate.

Mr Williamson said: 

It is important that the investment is made in the parliamentary buildings to ensure such a thing doesn’t happen again.

That is why it is the right thing to do to be making the investments that are in order to ensure that such an iconic building such as the Palace of Westminster isn’t vulnerable to fire as well.

I think that the House authorities have been very clear in terms of their commitment to making this happen.

I know that you see around parliament today a vast amount of investment that’s already been undertaken in order to be able to ensure that the work that needs to be done to Parliament is being done to Parliament.

With what Andrea (Leadsom, Leader of the House) is doing in terms of leading that restoration and renewal, the right attitude and the right approach has been taken by the house authorities.

The chief architect of Cologne cathedral has predicted it could take decades to repair the damage Notre Dame cathedral.

Peter Fuessenich, who oversees all construction work for the Gothic cathedral in the German city, told broadcaster RTL on Tuesday that “it will certainly take years, perhaps even decades, until the last damage caused by this terrible fire will be completely repaired.” 

Cologne cathedral was heavily damaged during World War II and work to repair it is still ongoing more than 70 years later. 

Fuessenich called the fire in Paris “a tragedy with a European dimension” as many churches and cathedrals across the continent were inspired by buildings in France. He said “when the last stone was set in Notre Dame, the first one was laid here in Cologne, and in this respect it affects us all very much.” 

The timbered roof of Cologne cathedral’s was replaced with an iron frame during the 19th century, meaning a fire there would be less devastating. 

All of the “most precious” treasures in Notre Dame were rescued, says French culture minister Franck Riester.

Some of them will be placed in the Louvre as early as today.

Mr Riester told a press conference: 

First of all the treasures, the most precious ones, were saved last night and stored at the Hotel de Ville in Paris, and I’d like to thank the town hall of Paris, and also the teams of ministry of culture, the fire officers and also everyone who really tried to save the crown (of thorns) and various other treasures.

Some of them will also be placed in the Louvre today or tomorrow, as soon as possible. As far as the major paintings, they will in fact only be withdrawn from Notre Dame probably on Friday morning.

They have not been damaged but there could be some damage from the smoke so we are going to take them safely and place them in the Louvre where they will be dehumidified and they will be protected, conserved and then restored.

A number of parts of Notre Dame’s structure “have been identified as particularly vulnerable” but “what remains of the roof should hold”, France’s culture minister Franck Riester has said.

Architects and firefighters have this morning been assessing damage to the cathedral.

Mr Riester said the structure was largely still “sound” and large paintings, despite suffering some fire damage, were mostly still intact.

Artworks salvaged from Notre Dame cathedral are to be transferred to Paris’s Louvre museum, the French culture minister has said.

My colleague Simon Calder has taken a look at the implications of the fire for the city’s tourism industry, and you can read that Here.

British MPs have warned the Palace of Westminster is at risk of a “huge” fire on the scale of the blaze which has devastated Notre Dame.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the inferno in Paris should act as a warning over the crumbling state of buildings in Westminster, which are in need of multibillion-pound restorations.

He said: “You can see the majesty and beauty of that building and to see it destroyed is devastating, I think, for everybody in Paris and indeed around the world, because you see beautiful buildings like that and think of the beautiful buildings we’ve got in this country.

“If any of those were destroyed in fire, how would we feel about it?”

Politicians have acknowledged that action is needed to safeguard the Houses of Parliament but have spent years wrangling over the best way to proceed.

A “restoration and renewal” programme is not expected to start in earnest until the mid-2020s after MPs and peers voted in early 2018 to leave the historic building to allow the work to be carried out.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who sat on a joint committee of parliamentarians from both Houses which examined the issue, said: “We have taken far too long already putting our fire safety measures in place.

“Parts of the Palace are as old as Notre Dame and we must make sure that every fire precaution is taken as the major work goes ahead. God knows we’ve had enough warnings.”

The joint committee noted in a 2016 report that “a substantial and growing risk of either a single, catastrophic event, such as a major fire, or a succession of incremental failures in essential systems which would lead to Parliament no longer being able to occupy the Palace”.

Queen Elizabeth II has sent a message to French president Emmanuel Macron, saying she was “deeply saddened to see the images of the fire which has engulfed Notre-Dame Cathedral” and extending her “sincere admiration to the emergency services”. 

She added: “I extend my sincere admiration to the emergency services who have risked their lives to try to save this important national monument.

“My thoughts and prayers are with those who worship at the Cathedral and all of France at this difficult time.”

Newspapers around the world splashed images of the Notre Dame inferno on their front pages today. Cyril Petit, an editor at Le Journal du Dimanche, tweeted this mosaic of international coverage: 

Two police officers and one firefighter were “lightly wounded” during the nine-hour effort to extinguish the blaze, Paris’s fire brigade has said.

More than 400 firefighters were involved. 

Officials previously said, that one firefighter had been seriously injured. 

Twelve construction workers involved renovating Notre Dame’s renovation at time of the fire have already been interviewed by French police, reports Le Monde.

Forty detectives have been deployed to collect witness testimonies as they look to establish what caused the blaze.

Police said last night they had opened an investigation into “involuntary destruction by fire” and did not believe the flames were started deliberately.

The first images taken in today’s morning light have revealed the extent of the damage to Notre Dame cathedral, writes my colleague Chiara Giordano:

First dawn images show scale of damage to Notre Dame cathedral.

Emmanuel Macron has suspended campaigning for the European elections following the Notre Dame fire. 

French politician Nathalie Loiseau, who is spearheading the campaign for the president’s LREM party, said the decision had been taken to mark this “moment of extreme sadness”. 

The campaign has been halted “until further notice”, she tweeted.

#French President Macron postpones TV address amid Notre-Dame fire

French President Emmanuel Macron has postponed an important address to the nation that was to lay out his responses to the yellow vest crisis because of the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Macron was planning to announce on Monday evening a series of measures after three months of a national debate that encouraged ordinary people to propose changes to France’s economy and democracy.

Instead he headed to the scene of the fire,

The French presidency didn’t reschedule the speech yet.

When he does speak, Macron is expected to respond to protesters’ concerns over their loss of purchasing power with possible tax cuts and measures to help retirees and single parents.

Other proposed changes could affect France’s democratic rules. Some observers say Macron may open up the possibility that citizens could propose referendums.

The French leader has repeatedly said he won’t reintroduce a wealth tax on the country’s richest people   one of the protesters’ major demands.

The yellow vest movement prompted by a fuel tax hike in November, has expanded into a broader revolt against Macron’s policies, which protesters see as favoring the rich and big businesses. Their protests, which often turned violent, especially in Paris, provoked a major domestic crisis that sent Macron’s popularity to record low levels.

Still, the number of demonstrators has been falling in recent weeks.

Most yellow vests leaders have urged supporters not to take part in Macron’s national debate, saying they did not believe the government’s offer to listen to the French. Ingrid Levavasseur of the yellow vests published an open letter Monday called “M. President, don’t play the illusionist.” She demanded measures to boost purchasing power and maintain public services.

Macron has already made concessions, but they failed to extinguish the anger of the yellow vest movement. In December, he abandoned the fuel tax hike, scrapped a tax increase for retirees and introduced a 100-euro ($113) monthly bonus to increase the minimum wage, a package estimated at 10 billion euros ($11.5 billion).

President Macron has pledged the cathedral will be rebuilt

Notre-Dame cathedral: Macron pledges reconstruction after fire

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild the medieval cathedral of Notre-Dame after a major fire partially destroyed the Paris landmark.

Firefighters managed to save the 850-year-old Gothic building’s main stone structure, including its two towers, but the spire and roof collapsed.

The fire was declared under control almost nine hours after it started.

The cause is not yet clear but officials say it could be linked to extensive renovation works under way.

Paris prosecutor’s office said it was currently being investigated as an accident. A firefighter was seriously injured while tackling the blaze.

Macron: ‘Terrible tragedy’

Visiting the site on Monday night, Mr Macron said the “worst had been avoided” with the preservation of the cathedral’s main structure as he pledged to launch an international fundraising scheme for the reconstruction.

“We’ll rebuild this cathedral all together and it’s undoubtedly part of the French destiny and the project we’ll have for the coming years,” said Mr Macron.

“That’s what the French expect [and] because it’s what our history deserves,” he added, visibly emotional, calling it a “terrible tragedy”.

Billionaire François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of the Kering group that owns the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent fashion brands, has already pledged €100m (£86m; $113m) towards rebuilding Notre-Dame, AFP news agency reports.

The French charity Fondation du Patrimoine is launching an international appeal for funds for the cathedral, a Unesco World Heritage site.

French President Emmanuel Macron: “We will rebuild this cathedral”

The fire started at around 18:30 (16:30 GMT) on Monday and quickly reached the roof of the cathedral, destroying its stained-glass windows and the wooden interior before toppling the spire.

Firefighters then spent hours working to prevent one of the iconic bell towers from collapsing. Search teams are now assessing the extent of the damage.

Sections of the building were under scaffolding as part of the renovations and 16 copper statues had been removed last week. Work began after cracks appeared in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable.

Mr Macron said the cathedral was “for all French people”, including those who had never been there, and praised the “extreme courage” of the 500 firefighters involved in the operation.

Mayor: ‘Artwork in safe place’

Emergency teams managed to rescue valuable artwork and religious items, including what is said to be the crown of thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion, which were stored inside the cathedral built in the 12th and 13th centuries.

A tunic, which King Louis IX is said to have worn when he brought the crown of thorns to Paris, was also saved.

“We had a chain of solidarity, especially in saving the works of art… [They] were able to be saved and put in a safe place,” said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. “This is a tragedy for the whole world… Notre-Dame is the entire history of Paris.”

Historian Camille Pascal told French broadcaster BFMTV that “invaluable heritage” had been destroyed. “Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre-Dame. We can be only horrified by what we see.”

Damaged parts of cathedral
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A symbol of a country

No other site represents France quite like Notre-Dame. Its main rival as a national symbol, the Eiffel Tower, is little more than a century old. Notre-Dame has stood tall above Paris since the 1200s.

It has given its name to one of the country’s literary masterpieces. Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is known to the French simply as Notre-Dame de Paris.

Notre-Dame_cathedral_on_fire_in_Paris

The last time the cathedral suffered major damage was during the French Revolution. It survived two world wars largely unscathed.

Watching such an embodiment of the permanence of a nation burn and its spire collapse is profoundly shocking to any French person.

Reaction: ‘France is crying’

Thousands of people gathered in the streets around the cathedral, observing the flames in silence. Some could be seen openly weeping, while others sang hymns or said prayers.

Several churches around Paris rang their bells in response to the blaze, which happened as Catholics celebrate Holy Week.

“Notre-Dame is burning, France is crying and the whole world, too. It is extremely emotional,” Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit said.

The Vatican expressed “shock and sadness” while UK Prime Minister Theresa May described the fire as “terrible”.

Unesco said it stood “at France’s side to save and restore this priceless heritage” visited by almost 13 million visitors each year, more than the Eiffel Tower.

INTERACTIVE Notre-Dame cathedral fire

After

Image of Notre Dame with the tower missing

Before

Image of Notre Dame with the tower on fire

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Notre-Dame a “symbol of French and European culture”.

US President Donald Trump said it was “horrible to watch” the fire and suggested that “flying water tankers” could be used to extinguish the blaze.

In an apparent response, the French Civil Security service said that was not an option as it might result in the collapse of the entire building.

Because of the fire, Mr Macron cancelled a speech on TV in which he was due to address the street protests that have rocked France for months.

#Notre-Dame cathedral: Firefighters tackle blaze in Paris

A major fire has engulfed one of France’s most famous landmarks – the medieval Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris.

Firefighters are battling to save the 850-year-old Gothic building, but its spire and roof have collapsed.

The cause is not yet clear, but officials say that it could be linked to renovation work.

A Paris fire official said the main structure had now been “saved and preserved”.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said it has opened an inquiry into “accidental destruction by fire.”

Loud bangs could be heard as flames burst through the cathedral’s roof, also destroying its stain-glass windows.

All efforts are now being put into saving the cathedral’s artwork and preventing the collapse of its northern tower.

Thousands of people have gathered in the streets around the cathedral, observing the flames in silence. Some could be seen openly weeping, while others sang hymns or said prayers.

Several churches around the French capital have been ringing their bells in response to the blaze.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has arrived at the scene, said his thoughts were with “all Catholics and all French people.”

“Like all of my countrymen, I am sad tonight to see this part of us burn.”

The fire department said a major operation was under way

Mr Macron had earlier cancelled an important TV speech to the nation because of the fire, an Élysée Palace official said.

A spokesman for the cathedral said the whole structure was “burning”.

“It remains to be seen whether the vault, which protects the cathedral, will be affected or not”, he said.

INTERACTIVE Notre-Dame cathedral fire

After

Image of Notre Dame with the tower missing

Before

Image of Notre Dame with the tower on fire

Historian Camille Pascal told French broadcaster BFMTV the fire was destroying “invaluable heritage.”

“For 800 years the Cathedral has watched over Paris”, he said.

“Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre Dame.

“We can be only horrified by what we see”.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo urged people to respect the boundaries set up by fire crews in order to ensure that they remain safe.

“There are a lot of art works inside…it’s a real tragedy,” she told reporters.

No other site represents France quite like Notre-Dame. Its main rival as a national symbol, the Eiffel Tower, is little more than a century old. Notre-Dame has stood tall above Paris since the 1200s.

It has given its name to one of the country’s literary masterpieces. Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is known to the French simply as Notre Dame de Paris.

The last time the cathedral suffered major damage was during the French Revolution. It survived two world wars largely unscathed.

Watching such an embodiment of the permanence of a nation burn and its spire collapse is profoundly shocking to any French person.

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People watch the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral burning in central Paris on April 15, 2019
The cathedral is visited by millions of people every year

“I have a lot of friends who live abroad and every time they come I tell them to go to Notre-Dame,” eyewitness Samantha Silva told the Reuters news agency.

“I’ve visited it so many times, but it will never be the same. It’s a real symbol of Paris.”

The_moment_Notre-Dame’s_spire_fell

US President Donald Trump suggested “perhaps flying water tankers” could be used to extinguish the fire.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered her support to the people of France, calling Notre-Dame a “symbol of French and European culture”.

“My thoughts are with the people of France tonight and with the emergency services who are fighting the terrible blaze at Notre-Dame cathedral”, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a tweet.

The Vatican has said news of the fire has caused “shock and sadness,” adding that it was praying for the French fire services.

The Notre-Dame cathedral, a popular tourist attraction, was undergoing renovations after cracks began to appear in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable.

Last year, the Catholic Church in France appealed for funds to save the building.

Graphic showing location of spire

Facts about Notre-Dame

Notre-Dame_cathedral_on_fire_in_Paris
  • The church receives almost 13m visitors each year, more than the Eiffel Tower
  • It was built in the 12th and 13th Centuries and is currently undergoing major renovations
  • Several statues of the facade of the Catholic cathedral were removed for renovation
  • The roof, which has been destroyed by the blaze, was made mostly of wood.
Are you in the area? Did you witness the fire? Email, haveyoursayonbbc@yahoo.com

#Emmanuel Macron has united his country – against him

An embattled, incompetent leader distrusted and disliked by a vast majority of voters. A wobbly economy that might be tipped into recession by Brexit. A re-energised opposition. Huge street protests. Squabbling with European partners. The government is paralysed, the opposition is emboldened — and the nation stands humiliated, as the world looks on in horror wondering how a leader who was so popular two years ago could get things so wrong.

Not Theresa May, but Emmanuel Macron, the politician who may be the greatest Brexiteer of them all. As the saga of British withdrawal enters its final chapter, Macron has emerged as the loudest advocate for pushing Britain out the door, deal or no deal, consequences be damned.

Why does he behave in this way? Wouldn’t France suffer even more from a no-deal Brexit? But to understand his rage, you need to understand the depth of the hole in which he now finds himself.

It’s now common for Brits to consider themselves the laughing stock of Europe. To be sure, the Westminster drama is embarrassing — but it could be worse. We could be France. Just two years ago, Macron was seen as the great centrist hope not just of France but of Europe. The country’s youngest ever president was elected aged 39¾ to the near unanimous approval of European bien pensants. He promised to drag France out of political, economic and social sclerosis, to see off the menace of populism, sack half a million supernumerary functionaries and make France great again.

He quickly discovered that reform of a state riddled with clientelism and protectionism is easy to talk about but difficult if not impossible to achieve. His predecessors made the same discovery.

His domestic failure has been spectacular and comprehensive. The suburbs are in turmoil and Macron’s vaunted reform project has ground to a halt. The legions of civil servants remain in place, many recently revealed to work less than 35 hours a week. State spending accounts for a gargantuan 58 per cent of the economy, with the highest taxes in Europe to pay for it all. Enterprise is crushed by further taxes on employment, which can double the cost of hiring a worker. Tax cuts are promised but undelivered and cannot be without inflating the alarming deficit or cutting back the state.

The French have had enough. The opinion polls are striking. Macron is now the most unloved leader in Europe, by a distance, according to the YouGov Eurotrack survey. Among Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Macron has achieved a clean sweep, finishing dead last in every category.

Do you approve of the government’s record to date? Seventy-six per cent of French voters disapprove. Do you think the financial situation of your household will change over the next 12 months? By a four-to-one ratio, they think it will get worse. Has the financial situation of your household changed in the past 12 months? Half say it has got worse, or a lot worse. How do you think the country’s economy has changed in the past 12 months? Fifty-seven per cent say it’s worse or a lot worse. A different poll found 75 per cent of French agree that Macron can be referred to as a ‘president for the rich’.

The trajectory of the Macron project has been a case study in hubris. He has taken green politics and tested them to destruction. His putting up of fuel taxes last year while cutting the wealth tax was a manoeuvre so ill-judged as to beggar belief: it seems to show his contempt for those priced out of the cities, who live in provincial areas where they need cars. His diesel tax and carbon tax was the proximate cause for spawning the gilets jaunes movement, which is still bringing cities to a standstill every Saturday. His explanation that fuel prices had to rise to counter climate change cut little moutarde with voters.

France has now had 21 consecutive weekends of demonstrations and riots in which thousands have been arrested, hundreds injured, many gravely, and ten killed. The frequent brutality of the police, relayed instantly on social networks, has been condemned by Amnesty International and the UN. The physical damage has cost hundreds of millions. The reputational hit has been much worse.

Invest in France? Hopes of attracting many bankers from Brexit island have gone up in flames, along with the Porsches on the Avenue Kléber. Macron’s response has been to denounce protesters as ‘enemies’ of the state, and to impose new laws suppressing ‘fake news’. It’s easy to understand his allergy to reporting outside the usually obedient conventional channels.

Sanctimonious he may be, but Macron’s probity is in as much doubt as his competence. His clumsy efforts to cover up a scandal in his inner circle, involving a handsome young bodyguard of North African origin, now fired, but apparently still in touch with Macron’s circle, have shaken even some of the normally complaisant Paris press corps.

And now there’s his latest project, to launch his ambitious ‘EU Renaissance’, a largely inchoate big idea that has strikingly failed to resonate with French people, who have truly not a clue what he is talking about and whose own deeply eurosceptic views are ignored. Having failed to reform France from Paris, he seems to imagine that his reborn EU might do the job for him, delivering the country from 40 years of stagnation.

With Europe as his standard, Macron’s fightback has been unconvincing. For several weeks, France has been treated to the embarrassing spectacle of his great national debate, launched to distract attention from the insurgency of the gilets jaunes. Hailed as a great exercise in consultative democracy, it’s been more of a monologue. He has toured the country, not debating, not listening, but talking, talking, talking, sometimes for three hours with nary a pause. Not even his handpicked audiences could feign rapt attention.

Tellingly, one subject almost entirely excluded from the agenda of this so-called debate was Europe. Macron has never had any intention of consulting the voters on this subject, and for good reason. The French are among the most eurosceptic voters in Europe. They rejected the European constitution in 2005 by 55-45 per cent. (The constitution was subsequently relabelled a treaty and imposed regardless.)

It is a curiosity that Macron remains deeply admired abroad, notably by the Economist, whose Paris correspondent practically worships him, and the New York Times, which has annointed him the anti-Trump. The Washington Post has even swooned over his marriage — a triumph for feminism, apparently. But in France, even those who intend to vote for his list in the forthcoming European parliamentary election will hold their noses.

As his economic reforms have ground to a standstill, and his attempts to buy off the gilets jaunes have pushed France’s debt to the very edge of 100 per cent of GDP, Macron now faces two further tests. Neither may work out for him. It is ironic that if Brexit is thwarted, only Nigel Farage is likely to be more disappointed than Macron. The second is the May election, in which he risks humiliation.

Faced with opposition from a barmy extreme left and toxic extreme right, Macron’s candidates may yet emerge with the largest number of seats. The received wisdom is that as much as voters do not like Macron, many will not stomach the alternative. (It is a particularly French expression of democracy that a politician can win an election with a 14 per cent approval rating.)

Or maybe not. Voters who would otherwise vote for Macron as the lesser of two evils in a presidential election may be less scrupulous in a contest for the European parliament. The gilets jaunes are more likely to be motivated to vote, and Macron’s base may not be large enough to push him over the line. Whichever camp is able to declare victory, France is inevitably going to return a large number of eurosceptic MEPs, and with allies from across Europe, they are going to make Macron’s renaissance a mission impossible.

Whither the boy wonder? Macron’s obsession with European federalism has not just alienated him from voters, but has irritated his most important ally, German chancellor Angela Merkel. Germany wants nothing to do with Macron’s proposed fiscal union. Why should Germans pay France’s debts? And lately, she has been especially alarmed by his inflammatory anti-British rhetoric. Macron might imagine that for the cause of his renaissance it’s essential to push the British out into the cold as soon as possible, deal or no deal. Merkel is listening to German industrialists, especially car makers, who call the UK ‘treasure island’.

The prospect of a messy Brexit scares plenty of people in France, too. Officials in the north, closer to the UK than Paris, are in open rebellion. French farmers and fishermen are spooked by the potential loss of markets and fishing rights. Even my neighbours in the south, a long way from the United Kingdom, fear the impact on wine and tourism, which essentially is all they’ve got.

When Macron was elected, a friend of mine who’d worked with him during his brief stint at Rothschild, and who found him an unlikeable and slippery colleague, nonetheless assured me that he was brilliant. He was always a swot, not just impressing but marrying his teacher. He won all the glittering prizes, admission to the École Nationale d’Administration, advancing thereafter to the status of haut fonctionnaire and economy minister under former president François Hollande.

But he is utterly lacking in emotional intelligence. He has failed to temper his narcissism and grandiosity, failed to listen, failed to master the essential art of politics, which is to bring people together, not divide them. His attempted listening tours have ended in disaster. Last summer, he was filmed telling an unemployed gardener how to find work: ‘In hotels, cafés and construction, everywhere I go people say to me that they are looking for staff,’ he said. ‘I can find you a job just by crossing the road.’ The video went viral. In his stubbornness and near autistic indifference to others, Macron has united France against him.

It will now be hard, perhaps impossible, for him to recover his popularity or his agenda which may help explain his Brexit obsession. He sees in it the concerns of provincial people who feel ignored by arrogant elites — the sort of people he’d hoped would go away. Brexit reminds him that they are unlikely to do so. As a result, his European renaissance is as undeliverable as the revolution he promised in France.

Could Macron and Brexit make Paris the capital of European tech?

Shortly after his election in May 2017, President Macron said he wanted France itself “to think and move like a start-up” – a vision of the country’s digital future that is gaining traction as Britain wrestles with Brexit.

French President EMMANUEL MACRON’s vow to make France a ‘start-up nation’ amid the uncertainty ‘s over BREXIT,  raising the question of whether could supplant London as the capital of European tech.

Since his election, Macron has wooed tech entrepreneurs with a string of initiatives in the form of lavish tax breaks, subsides, and credits for research. In March 2018, he promised to invest €1.5 billion into artificial intelligence research through 2022.

Some of these initiatives, in addition to Macron’s dynamism, have lured British tech companies who are looking to gain a foothold in EUROPE.

“It made sense to have a European base,” said Cedric Jones*, a Briton who recently launched a start-up at Station F, the cavernous old train station that is now home to the world’s largest start-up campus. “If I’m going to make waves in continental Europe… I wanted to get here before Brexit happened.”

Jones is among dozens of foreign entrepreneurs who have recently launched their start-up at Station F, whose 3,000 desk hub has seen spiralling applications from English-speaking nationals in the last two years.

Some cite political woes back home, the burgeoning French tech sector, or are inspired by Macron’s bid to make Paris the innovation heart of Europe.

“There’s an air of optimism and a can-do spirit in France that I feel we’ve lost somewhat in the US,” said Mark Heath, a New Yorker, who stayed on in France to launch a start-up after studying at INSEAD in 2017.

The Macron effect

Much of the investment in French tech predates Macron’s reforms. The state investment bank Bpifrance, launched by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2013, has been widely credited with developing the sector. His successor, former French president François Hollande, set up new foreign visas for start-up entrepreneurs.

But Zahir Bouchaary, a Briton who works out of Station F, credits Macron with injecting dynamism into the sector.

“Macron has installed a [start-up] mentality within the French ecosystem itself,” said Bouchaary, adding that it has become much easier to do business in France in the last few years.

“French customers are a lot more willing to work with start-ups than they were before,” said Bouchaary. “France was a very conservative country and our clients were used to working with big old-fashioned companies that have been around for a while. For the past few years they’ve opened up a lot more to working with younger companies and seem to take more risks than they did before.”

Jones agreed that Macron was “the single variable”. “When he [Macron] goes, the dynamism will go too. I absolutely would not expect that to remain the case if he’s not president.”

However, although Macron has moved to ease labour laws, Jones said that navigating the country’s labyrinthine bureaucracy in French remained “very burdensome”, and that it was far easier to build a business in the UK. “Whether it’s from a tax perspective or from a legal perspective it’s just so much more complicated.”

UK tech ‘resilient’

The tech scene in London appears to be just as vibrant as ever, explained Albin Serviant, president of Frenchtech in London, who said many UK-based tech entrepreneurs are adopting a “wait and see” approach to Brexit.

“The UK ecosystem is quite resilient,” said Serviant.

“In the first quarter of 2019, there were about €2 billion invested in tech in London. That’s compared to 1.5 billion last year, which is plus 30 percent. And that’s twice as much as France – which invested 1 billion. France is catching up very fast but the investment money is still flowing in the UK,” he added.

Serviant cited London’s business-friendly ecosystem and international talent pool as reasons for why London remains the capital of the European tech sector.

Nonetheless Serviant cautioned against the effects that a hard Brexit would have on the tech sector in the UK.

“‘If Brexit happens in a bad way and if people like me and other entrepreneurs have to leave, obviously that’s very bad for the UK because what makes it very different is the international DNA of London.”

Hard Brexit would not just damage the UK tech sector but would also pose challenges for British developers, who post-Brexit may need a carte de séjour to work in the country, looking to find work in France.

Sarah Pedroza, co managing director of Hello Tomorrow technologies, a Paris-based startup NGO, said that if she had to choose between hiring a British national and an EU citizen with the same skillset, she would opt for an EU citizen because there would be less paperwork involved.

Brexit aside, others suggest that France is snapping at the UK’s technological heels.

“I do think France has the potential under Macron to close the gap with the UK,” said Jones.

“The single biggest factor in what’s going on for France is that France is developing a sense of confidence in itself, in its start-up scene, as a tech hub, that’s being helped by France and that’s also being helped by Brexit.”

Ukraine presidential rivals court Macron, Merkel before runoff

Frontrunner Volodymyr Zelensky meets French leader as incumbent president courts both Merkel and Macron on the same day.

Ukraine’s  presidential candidates have travelled to Paris and Berlin to seek international backing nine days before the April 21 runoff vote.

French President, Emmanuel Macron first hosted comic Volodymyr Zelensky, a political novice who is tipped to become Ukraine’s sixth president, for talks in Paris before a planned meeting with the incumbent, President Petro Poroshenko.

Poroshenko, who is anxious to make up ground lost to Zelensky by showing off his experience, travelled earlier in the day to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

Both men were expected to discuss Ukraine’s five-year war with Russian-backed rebels in the country’s east, a conflict in which, France and Germany, have attempted to broker peace.

Polls show 41-year-old Zelensky, whose only political experience involves playing the president on TV, easily defeating Poroshenko for the leadership of a country jaded by the conflict with Russia.

“Very cool,” Zelensky said of his meeting with Macron.

“We spoke about life, we spoke about the main things,” he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “We spoke about stopping the war in Donbass,” he said, referring to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

In the first round of the presidential vote held on March 31, Poroshenko received fewer than 16 percent of the votes whereas Zelensky secured more than 30 percent.

France and Germany are part of the so-called Normandy Quartet [Adam Berry/Getty Images]

Merkel told a news conference with Poroshenko that she had invited him to Berlin to continue their “constant exchange” on security.

“I think it’s important that we continue to discuss, even at a time when the elections are under way,” she said.

France and Germany are part of the so-called Normandy Quartet with Ukraine and Russia set up to try to end the conflict between Kiev and Moscow-backed separatists.

The war has killed 13,000 people since 2014.

Poroshenko, a 53-year-old chocolate mogul, has positioned himself as the only candidate able to stand up to the Kremlin.

On Friday, he downplayed the significance of Zelensky’s rise from comedian, telling reporters in Berlin: “We have politicians who are not part of the political system, but that also exists in other parts of Europe. Ukraine is not an exception.”

On Thursday, he had described the Paris and Berlin visits as “especially important” in the face of what he called Western “attempts” to lift sanctions against Russia, imposed after its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula.

Kiev and its Western allies accuse Russia of supporting the rebels militarily. Moscow denies that.

The PM wants to postpone Brexit until 30 June - but the EU is expected to want a longer delay

Brexit: Theresa May to make plea for 30 June delay at EU summit

EU leaders are to meet for an emergency summit in Brussels to decide whether to offer the UK another delay to Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May wants to postpone the date the UK leaves the EU beyond this Friday, until 30 June.

But the EU is expected to offer a longer delay, after European Council President Donald Tusk urged the other 27 leaders to back a flexible extension of up to a year – and with conditions.

Every EU member state needs to agree before a delay can be granted.

The UK is currently due to leave the EU at 23:00 BST on Friday, 12 April.

So far, UK MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement Mrs May reached with other European leaders last year, so she is now asking for the leaving date to be extended. If no extension is granted, the default position would be to leave on Friday without a deal.

Mrs May will head to Belgium this afternoon, after her weekly clash with Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.

That head-to-head follows five days of talks between the government and Labour officials aimed at breaking the Brexit impasse.

At the summit – which begins at around 18:00 local time (17:00 BST) on Wednesday evening – Mrs May will formally present her case for a short delay until 30 June, with the option for the UK to leave earlier if her Brexit deal is ratified.

The other EU leaders will then have dinner without her and discuss how to respond.

‘Don’t humiliate either side’

In a formal letter to the leaders on the eve of the summit, Mr Tusk proposed a longer, flexible extension – although “no longer than one year” – to avoid creating more cliff-edge extensions or emergency summits in the future.

Any delay should have conditions attached, he said – including that there would be no reopening of the withdrawal agreement talks. And the UK would have the option to leave earlier if a Brexit deal was ratified.

French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Donald Tusk gesture for Theresa May to join a photo of EU leaders at the European Council Summit in Brussels, Belgium in March 2019
France’s Emmanuel Macron and the EU’s Donald Tusk gesture for Mrs May to join a group photo at the EU summit last month

Referring to Mrs May’s proposal for an extension until the end of June, he added there was “little reason to believe” that Mrs May’s deal could be ratified by then.

And if the European Council did not agree on an extension at all, “there would be a risk of an accidental no-deal Brexit”, he said.

Mr Tusk also warned that “neither side should be allowed to feel humiliated at any stage in this difficult process”.

EU officials have prepared a draft document for the leaders to discuss at the summit – with the end date of the delay left blank for them to fill in once deliberations have ended.

BBC Europe editor Mr Ben Rory, said the fact the length of delay had been left blank in the conclusions showed EU leaders were still divided on the issue.

The BBC’s Europe correspondent Kevin Connolly said “much has been spelled out in advance”, including the condition that if the UK remains a member of the EU at the end of May it will have to hold elections to the European Parliament or be forced to leave immediately.

He added that, during the delay, the UK would be expected to commit to not disrupting EU business, such as the preparation of the next budget, and its influence “would be sharply reduced and its voice muted”.

On Tuesday, Mrs May travelled to Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and then Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a bid to seek their support for her shorter delay.

There was no-one to greet the PM as she arrived to meet the German chancellor for Brexit talks in Berlin

Afterwards, Ms Merkel said a delay that ran until the end of this year or the start of 2020 was a possibility.

In a statement, Downing Street said the prime minister and Chancellor Merkel agreed on the importance of ensuring Britain’s orderly withdrawal.

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) accompanies out British Prime Minister Theresa May after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Tuesday
Mrs May told Mr Macron the government was working hard to avoid the need to hold EU Parliamentary elections

Meanwhile, talks between Labour and the Conservatives are scheduled to resume after Mrs May returns from the summit.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the talks had been “open and constructive” but the sides differed on a “number of areas”. Labour’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said they were “hopeful progress will be made”.

#Brexit: Theresa May meets Emmanuel Macron for delay request

Theresa May is holding last-minute Brexit talks with the French President Emmanuel Macron, with the UK due to leave the EU in three days’ time.

The UK PM will urge Mr Macron to back her request to delay Brexit again until 30 June, having earlier met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

After the talks, Ms Merkel said a delay that runs to the end of the year or the start of 2020 was a possibility.

There is a summit on Wednesday when all EU states will vote on an extension.

Cross-party talks in Westminster aimed at breaking the impasse in Parliament finished, with both sides expressing hope there would be progress.

A draft EU document circulated to diplomats ahead of the emergency meeting of EU leaders proposes an extension but leaves the date blank.

The BBC’s Brussels correspondent Mr Ben Rory, said the document refers to an extension lasting “only as long as is necessary and, in any event, no longer than XX.XX.XXXX and ending earlier if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified”.

European Council president Donald Tusk said there was “little reason to believe” that the ratification process of the withdrawal agreement could be completed by the end of June.

In a letter to EU leaders, he said at Wednesday’s summit members should discuss “an alternative, longer extension” that will be flexible and “would last only as long as necessary and no longer than one year”.

The UK is currently due to leave the EU at 23:00 BST on Friday.

Downing Street said Mrs May and Ms Merkel discussed the UK’s request for an extension of Article 50 – the process by which the UK leaves the EU – to 30 June, with the option to bring this forward if a deal is ratified earlier.

The prime minister and Chancellor Merkel agreed “on the importance of ensuring Britain’s orderly withdrawal”, a statement said.

There was no-one to greet the PM as she arrived to meet the German chancellor for Brexit talks in Berlin

Ms Merkel said EU leaders would discuss a “flextension” – a one-year flexible extension – at Wednesday’s summit.

Following a meeting of the EU’s General Affairs Council in Luxembourg, diplomats said “slightly more than a handful” of member states spoke in favour of a delay to 30 June and a majority were in favour of a longer extension.

Adam Fleming said no maximum end extension date was agreed, although December 2019 and March 2020 were mentioned.

Conditions of a delay were discussed including UK participation in May’s European Parliament elections, no re-opening of the withdrawal agreement and how to guarantee the UK’s pledge of “sincere co-operation” in ongoing EU business.

So far, MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement Mrs May reached with other European leaders last year.

One of most contentious parts of the plan is the Irish backstop – an insurance policy that aims to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland.

Andrea Leadsom: Merkel should reopen withdrawal deal

The EU has continually said it will not re-open the withdrawal agreement for negotiations, but Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom renewed her plea for them to look again.

Meanwhile, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said cross-party talks aimed at breaking the impasse in Parliament had been “open and constructive”, but the two sides differed on a “number of areas”.

Labour’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said they were “hopeful progress will be made” and discussions with the government will continue in the “coming days”.

Further talks are due to be held on Thursday.

In a leaked letter seen by the Telegraph, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has warned that agreeing with Labour over its demand for a customs union is the “worst of both worlds” and will leave Britain unable to set its own trade policy.

On Tuesday afternoon, MPs approved a government motion asking MPs to approve the PM’s request to the EU to delay Brexit, required after a bill from Labour’s Yvette Cooper became law.

The final decision on an extension lies with the EU – and the leaders of all the 27 other EU countries have to decide whether to grant or reject an extension.

If the UK is still a member of the EU on 23 May, it will have to take part in European Parliamentary elections.

Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the UK would “certainly not” leave without a deal on Friday.

But Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said a no-deal Brexit was still possible – even though it would represent “an extraordinary failure of politics”.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the EU has “hope and expectation” from the cross-party talks happening in Westminster and he would be willing to “improve” the political declaration “within hours”.

EU leaders are curious to hear the prime minister’s Plan B. They hope there is one, although they’re not convinced.

They want to know, if they say yes to another Brexit extension, what it will be used for.

And they suspect Theresa May wants them to do her dirty work for her.

EU diplomatic sources I have spoken to suggest the prime minister may have officially asked the EU for a short new extension (until 30 June) as that was politically easier for her back home, whereas she believed and hoped (the theory goes) that EU leaders will insist instead on a flexible long extension that she actually needs.

The bottom line is: EU leaders are extremely unlikely to refuse to further extend the Brexit process.

If no cross-party compromise can be reached, Mrs May has committed to putting a series of Brexit options to the Commons and being bound by the result.

This could include the option of holding a public vote on any deal agreed by Parliament.

Tory MP and government aide to the chancellor, Huw Merriman, said he backed a “People’s Vote” to secure the public’s support for the prime minister’s deal.

Speaking at a rally for the campaign, he said it was “seriously wrong” that he had been threatened with the sack, and said he wanted another vote in order to “get this country through the mess we are currently in”.

Key dates in the week ahead

  • Tuesday: Theresa May travels to Berlin, and Paris, for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. Commons vote on motion to approve the PM’s request to the EU to delay Brexit
  • Wednesday: PMQs in the Commons. Emergency summit of EU leaders to consider UK request for further extension until 30 June, with the option of an earlier Brexit day if a deal can be agreed
  • Friday: Brexit day, if UK is not granted a further delay
Flowchart on next steps
Theresa May will hold talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday

Brexit: EU keen to quiz Theresa May ahead of summit

Europe’s leaders feel they have already lost far too much political time on Brexit.

Again today, Prime Minister Theresa May heads to Paris and Berlin for talks with Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel – this after a number of phone calls on Monday with other EU leaders – with little up her sleeve or in her pocket to share with them.

But far from showing impatience (OK, Berlin and Paris would have been happy with a call rather than a more time-consuming visit), EU leaders have welcomed being in contact with Mrs May ahead of Wednesday’s Brexit summit.

She doesn’t have a great track record for “getting the tone right on the night” at EU gatherings. And with a no-deal Brexit looming this Friday, the EU thinks this is no time for misunderstandings.

There is little European expectation that cross-party talks with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn will come to fruition this week – if ever.

So, EU leaders are curious to hear the prime minister’s Plan B. They hope there is one, although they’re not convinced.

They want to know, if they say yes to another Brexit extension, what it will be used for.

And they suspect Theresa May wants them to do her dirty work for her. EU diplomatic sources I have spoken to suggest the prime minister may have officially asked the EU for a short new extension (until 30 June) as that was politically easier for her back home, whereas she believed and hoped (the theory goes) that EU leaders would insist instead on a flexible long extension that she actually needs.

The bottom line is: EU leaders are extremely unlikely to refuse to further extend the Brexit process.

Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Government ministers are continuing talks with Labour leaders to try to find a compromise deal

France’s Emmanuel Macron has been built up in the press (and he has done much to encourage this image) as the Brexit villain who could veto an extension and force no deal on Friday.

But, while possible, it is unlikely. There is no EU appetite for a chaotic Brexit. And while President Macron relishes playing bad cop, he alone will not want to be responsible for the effects of no deal in Calais and on the Irish border.

The first is bad for France, the other for Ireland (Mr Macron spoke of his solidarity with Ireland while in Dublin only last week) and for the EU as a whole – with a threat to the integrity of the single market along the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after a no-deal Brexit.

Rather than vetoing an extension altogether, Mr Macron is more likely to push for tough conditions to any new Brexit delay, These are:

  1. That the UK prepares to take part in European parliamentary elections (all EU countries are agreed on this)
  2. That this new extension be the last one on offer to the UK
  3. That the UK makes political commitments to abstain from or at least not to obstruct key decisions on the EU’s future – such as the next EU budget – as long as the extension lasts

It’s hard to see how the two last conditions could be made legally enforceable. But demanding “tough conditions” has as much to do with Mr Macron putting on his Defender of Europe hat for a wide audience, as anything else.

Aside from extension conditions, EU leaders are still split over how long any new Brexit delay could or should be.

Some feel a short extension would keep up the pressure on MPs to finally come to a Brexit conclusion. Others favour a longer extension – nine months to a year but with the UK able to duck out early after parliament ratifies a Brexit deal (the so-called “flextension”).

Bear in mind, EU leaders are beginning to lose credibility at home for allowing the Brexit can to be constantly kicked down the road. Uncertainty is costly for European businesses too.

The Belgian prime minister has asked an inner core of countries most affected by Brexit – including Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and France – to meet a couple of hours before the summit on Wednesday starts to try to iron out some of their differences ahead of time.

Brexit: Theresa May to meet Angela Merkel and

Theresa May is to hold last-minute Brexit talks with the leaders of Germany and France later, four days before the UK is due to leave the EU.

Mrs May is meeting Angela Merkel in Berlin, followed by Emmanuel Macron in Paris, to urge them to back her request to delay Brexit again until 30 June.

The prime minister will be at an emergency summit on Wednesday when all EU states will vote on an extension.

Cross-party talks aimed at breaking the impasse are also set to continue.

The negotiating teams will be joined by Chancellor Philip Hammond and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, with the Labour frontbencher saying they hoped to “broaden the talks”.

The UK is currently due to leave the EU at 23:00 BST on Friday.

So far, MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement Theresa May reached with other European leaders last year.

On Monday evening, Parliament passed a bill brought by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, which aims to force the prime minister to request a Brexit extension – rather than leave the EU without a deal on Friday, which is the default position.

The government opposed the bill, saying it was unnecessary as Mrs May was already seeking an extension. But the backbenchers behind it wanted to ensure it became law to prevent any changes in her strategy.

The bill received its Royal Assent on Monday night, and Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom told MPs that this meant there will be a government motion on Tuesday asking the House to approve the PM’s request to the EU to delay Brexit until 30 June.

Theresa May meeting Emmanuel Macron in southern France in August 2018
Mrs May is expected to set out to Mr Macron her rationale behind seeking a further delay to Brexit

The final decision on an extension lies with the EU – and the leaders of all the 27 other EU countries have to decide whether to grant or reject an extension.

Germany’s Europe Minister Michael Roth said Mrs May would receive a warm welcome in Berlin, but his government’s priority was maintaining the unity of the European Union.

On Monday, Mrs May spoke by phone to the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who said it was “crucial” for the EU’s members to know “when and on what basis” the UK will ratify the withdrawal deal.

Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the UK would “certainly not” leave without a deal on Friday.

But Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said a no-deal Brexit was still possible – even though it would represent “an extraordinary failure of politics”.

EU leaders are curious to hear the prime minister’s Plan B. They hope there is one, although they’re not convinced.

They want to know, if they say yes to another Brexit extension, what it will be used for.

And they suspect Theresa May wants them to do her dirty work for her.

EU diplomatic sources I have spoken to suggest the prime minister may have officially asked the EU for a short new extension (until 30 June) as that was politically easier for her back home, whereas she believed and hoped (the theory goes) that EU leaders will insist instead on a flexible long extension that she actually needs.

The bottom line is: EU leaders are extremely unlikely to refuse to further extend the Brexit process.

No 10 said ministers and their shadow counterparts will continue cross-party talks later, as they try to break the Brexit deadlock.

A Downing Street spokesman said the government was “committed to finding a way through” which requires both sides “to work at a pace”.

Talks between Labour and the government began last week, with Mrs May saying only a cross-party pact would see MPs agree a deal in Parliament.

Justice Secretary David Gauke told BBC Breakfast the meetings had been “constructive and positive”, adding that both sides were “working in a positive manner” to find a way forward.

On Monday, sources indicated the PM had not accepted Labour’s customs union demand, but there was a move towards changing the non-binding political declaration.

And the government reportedly suggested offering Labour a guarantee that any deal they reached could not be undone, creating a “lock”.

This aims to ease Labour concerns that any promises could be unpicked by the next Conservative leader.

But BBC political editor, Emmanuel Justice, said there was “deep concern” on the Labour side that any legal promise could be undone by future legislation.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said there had been no change in the government’s “red lines”.

However, the prime minister has been warned by members of the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers that agreeing a customs union with the EU in Brexit talks would be “unacceptable”.

The MPs met Mrs May in Downing Street on Monday and it is understood they were more open to the idea of a customs arrangement, which would allow the UK to do its own trade deals.

If no compromise can be reached between the parties, Mrs May has committed to putting a series of Brexit options to the Commons and being bound by the result.

This could include the option of holding a public vote on any deal agreed by Parliament.

Tory MP and government aide to the Chancellor, Huw Merriman, said he backed a “People’s Vote” to secure the public’s support for the prime minister’s deal.

Ahead of speaking at a rally for the campaign, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he is “probably likely” to be sacked, as it is not government policy, but it felt it was “important” to explain that another referendum was not just for Remain-backers.

Brexit: Theresa May to meet Angela Merkel and
Corbyn: No change in government’s Brexit ‘red lines’

Mr Corbyn said that the ongoing talks “have to mean a movement” in the government’s policy, adding: “So far there’s been no change in those red lines.”

The Labour leader said there were “many concerns” his party had over the political declaration – a plan for the future relationship with the EU – which it planned to put to the government in their discussions.

Meanwhile, the government has taken the necessary steps which are required by law to allow the UK to take part in European Parliament elections on 23 May.

The Cabinet Office said it was taking responsible steps, but the move did not make participation in the elections inevitable.

Key dates in the week ahead

  • Tuesday: Theresa May travels to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then Paris for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron. Cross-party talks continue
  • Wednesday: Emergency summit of EU leaders to consider UK request for further extension until 30 June, with the option of an earlier Brexit day if a deal can be agreed
  • Friday: Brexit day, if UK is not granted a further delay
Flowchart on next steps

Explosive Corsica offers tense end to Emmanuel Macron’s do-or-die ‘great debate’ tour of France

President Emmanuel Macron completed an exhausting “great debate” tour of France yesterday (Thurs) with a tense visit to Corsica, where nationalists boycotted the meeting and brandished the island’s flag depicting a beheaded Moor by way of welcome.

Mr Macron, has spent almost 100 hours listening since January listening and responding to the grievances of local mayors and officials in meetings around France. The exercise was part of an attempt to assuage the yellow-vest revolt, which fanned from the provinces to Paris and snowballed into the worst crisis of his presidency.

Almost two million people have posted suggestions on issues ranging from taxes to popular referendums on a dedicated website while a further million have taken part in almost 1,500 meetings across the country.

Mr Macron’s uncannily good memory and stamina have won plaudits during the 15 debates he has taken part in with groups ranging from intellectuals in Paris to schoolchildren in Burgundy. Even rivals offered grudging praise at his ability to go from macroeconomics to the minutiae of local politics, on everything from “bears in the Pyrenees to toxins in Tampax”, to quote one observer cited by Le Figaro.

As a result his poll ratings have started to recover after hit an all-time low amid claims he was an arrogant and out-of-touch “president of the rich”.

With France's 'Grand Débat' drawing to a close, the question remains: what measures will President Emmanuel Macron propose as a response?
With France’s ‘Grand Débat’ drawing to a close, the question remains: what measures will President Emmanuel Macron propose as a response?

However, with the debate period now coming to a close, all eyes are on whether he can translate the unprecedented exercise in “participative democracy” into workable measures that will satisfy the irascible gilets jaunes and stamp out violent protests in Paris and other big cities.

His prime minister, Edouard Philippe, is due next Monday to outline the initial findings from the website contributions, which have been fed to an artificial intelligence application for keywords. Mr Macron is then due to announce proposals on the back of the debates later this month. Some commentators say these could be radical.

Mr Macron did not pick the easiest of venues to round off his marathon debate tour as he was met by nationalists waving the Corsican flag, which depicts the black head of a beheaded pirate, along the route towards a village where the debate took place near Ajaccio. They were furious that only the French and European flags were flying at the venue.

Emmanuel Macron was snubbed by nationalists in Corsica, where he rounded off his "great debate' tour - a response to France's yellow vest revolt
Emmanuel Macron was snubbed by nationalists in Corsica, where he rounded off his “great debate’ tour – a response to France’s yellow vest revolt CREDIT:

Less than half of the 350 mayors invited turned up while Corsica’s two top politicians, Gilles Simeoni, the nationalist head of Corsican regional government, and his more radical coalition partner in the Corsican assembly, Jean-Guy Talamoni, boycotted the meeting in protest at Mr Macron’s refusal to cede to their demands.

These include an amnesty for prisoners jailed for separatist violence, wider use of the Corsican language and measures to bar wealthy mainlanders from the local property market.

The president has offered to add an article on Corsica to the constitution which would recognise its “specificity” and allow the regional assembly to adapt some national legislation.

But after a five-year lull, there are fears of renewed violence on the Mediterranean “island of beauty” after plastic explosives were found at tax offices in Bastia two days before Mr Macron’s visit and several second homes were blown up in recent weeks.

In an interview this week, Mr Macron said he would ”do everything to ensure that the page of violence has been turned for good”.

“I think that you can defend the Corsican identity and fully respect the nation and its values,” he added. 

During the debate, he said he too wanted to move forward, but called on nationalists to express regret at the assassination of the highest state representative on the island, Claude Erignac, gunned down in 1998.

Mr Macron, right, told reporters that France and Ireland would be the countries most affected by a no-deal outcome

Macron: EU ‘will not be hostage to Brexit crisis’

The European Union will not be hostage to a “political crisis” in the UK, France’s president has said.

Emmanuel Macron was speaking in Paris during talks with Irish PM Leo Varadkar.

“We will never abandon Ireland or the Irish people no matter what happens, because this solidarity is the very purpose of the European project,” said Mr Macron.

Mr Varadkar said any Brexit extension needed “a clear purpose, clear plan”.

Their meeting came after MPs twice rejected Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal deal, with the government now ramping up plans for a no-deal scenario.

Mr Varadkar said he would also discuss the Republic of Ireland’s no-deal plans with Mr Macron.

The taoiseach (Irish prime minister) emphasised that the EU should be open to any “credible proposals” the UK put forward about in the Brexit process.

Mr Macron told reporters that France and Ireland would be the countries most affected by a no-deal outcome.

They both said the integrity of the single market would need to be protected, but that the EU would uphold commitments made to ensure the protection of the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Varadkar’s visit to France comes ahead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s trip to Dublin on Thursday.

Chancellor Merkel at CDU congress, 7 Dec 18
German Chancellor Angel Merkel is due to visit Dublin on Thursday

He said the EU would need to seriously consider how to respond to any request from the UK for a longer extension, in order to avoid leaving with no deal on 12 April.

Mr Varadkar said that it would come with conditions, requiring the UK to take part in European elections on 23 May.

Mairead McGuinness, vice-president of the European Parliament and Fine Gael MEP, said that a no deal does not solve problems for those who would advocate for a hard Brexit.

“There’s a view that a no deal would be a forever state of play from those that would argue for it, but frankly it’s not,” she said.

“Immediately afterwards I believe the UK would need to come to the EU and ask to speak and negotiate.”

Mr Varadkar is expected to return from Paris on Tuesday evening and hold a meeting of his cabinet.

The DUP and the backstop

Earlier on Tuesday, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said a no-deal Brexit is now more likely but can still be avoided.

DUP MPs in the House of Commons
The DUP still want changes made to the backstop

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) voted against all four options tabled on Monday.

The party’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds said if the Irish border backstop was addressed, the DUP could “do business” with the government.

Speaking after the indicative votes, Mr Dodds said the only proposition that MPs had ever supported was an amendment – known as the Brady amendment – calling on the government to negotiate changes to the backstop.

The backstop is the insurance policy to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland, unless and until another solution is found.

The DUP and some Brexiteer MPs oppose it because if it took effect, it would keep Northern Ireland only tied to some EU regulatory rules, and would keep the whole of the UK in a customs union with the EU.

On Monday night, independent unionist MP for North Down, Lady Hermon, backed two of the options.

She voted for another referendum and to revoke article 50, but against a customs union or single market arrangement.

‘Extraordinary EU summit’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Dublin on Thursday, as pressure mounts over Parliament’s failure to ratify the withdrawal agreement.

The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 12 April, if it cannot propose a way forward to the EU.

An extraordinary EU summit is due to take place on 10 April.

Mr Varadkar said he would discuss with his French and German counterparts how the European Council should respond to a request for another extension from the UK, to seek a delay to the Brexit process.

French president tells 73-year-old woman, whose skull was fractured, she is ‘fragile’

Macron under fire for ‘patronising’ injured gilets jaunes protester

French president tells 73-year-old woman, whose skull was fractured, she is ‘fragile’

Emmanuel Macron, has been accused of patronising a 73-year-old giletsjaunes (yellow vests) protester who sustained a fractured skull after riot police charged demonstrators in an off-limits area of Nice.

Geneviève Legay, was taken to hospital with serious head injuries on Saturday. Jean-Michel Prêtre, the Nice public prosecutor, said an investigation had been opened but it appeared Legay had hit her head on a concrete bollard as police tried to clear protesters.

Macron, who was in Nice on Monday along with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, who is visiting France, told the Nice-Matin newspaper he wished Legay a “speedy recovery”, but simultaneously criticised her.

“When one is fragile and risks being shoved, one does not go to places that are declared off-limits and one does not put oneself in that kind of situation,” he said.

Macron added: “This lady was not in contact with the forces of law and order. She put herself in a situation where she went, quite deliberately, to an area that was off-limits and was caught up in a movement of panic. I regret this deeply, but we must respect public order everywhere.”

He concluded: “I wish her a speedy recovery … and perhaps a kind of wisdom.”

The remarks brought a swift riposte from the Legay family lawyer, Arié Alimi, who said: “I don’t find it very reasonable to criticise a person who is in a hospital bed, in a serious condition, or to consider that the elderly cannot express their convictions on the streets.”

The Legay family plans to file an official complaint against police for “wilful violence in a group with arms by those in a position of public authority over vulnerable persons”.

 The French president, Emmanuel Macron, held meetings with his Chinese counterpart,
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, held meetings with his Chinese counterpart,

Alimi said the complaint aimed to establish whether his client was in the off-limits zone when “she was assaulted” and to “establish if the [police] charge was necessary and proportionate”.

Legay was injured while waving a rainbow flag at a gilets jaunes protest on Saturday, the 19th consecutive Saturday of nationwide demonstrations by the movement since last November.

The gilets jaunes initially took to the streets to protest against a hike in fuel tax, but their grievances quickly morphed into more general dissatisfaction with the French president and his centrist government. Several weekends have seen violent clashes between riot police and protestors.

For weeks, Macron has been touring French town halls as part of his “grand national debate” to listen to public grievances and take the sting out of the gilets jaunes movement and its accusations that he is detached, out of touch and lofty.

His comments about Legay brought an instant response from critics on Monday.

The hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of the France, Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, tweeted: “Mr Macron, our Geneviève of Nice doesn’t need your lessons in wisdom. You should have a lot to learn from her.”

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, of the rightwing France Debout (Stand up France) party, attacked Macron’s “arrogance”, which he said was “profoundly inhumane”.

“Real wisdom, Mr Macron, is to listen to our elders and those who are weak so that they don’t need to be taking to the streets to express their distress,” Dupont-Aignan said.

On Sunday, Macron met Xi on the Côte d’Azur and the two had a private dinner at Beaulieu-sur-Mer. The Chinese leader also fitted in a brief visit to Monaco and on Monday travelled to Paris for the start of a state visit.

The French and Chinese leaders laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe, on the Champs Élysées, the scene of looting and destruction by gilets jaunes protesters a week ago.

Afterwards, they headed to the Élysée Palacefor a ceremony. On Monday evening, Macron and his wife Brigitte hosted a state dinner with guests including the French actor Alain Delon and the Chinese painter Yan Pei-Ming.

Macron is hoping to sign about 30 deals with Xi, approximately half of them business contracts worth several billion euros, as well as bilateral agreements.

However, he is treading a fine line between encouraging lucrative Chinese contracts and seeking to persuade Xi to open China’s market to French exports in transport, renewable energy and city infrastructure sectors, and expressing concern over human rights and unfair competition from Chinese firms.

France also seeks Chinese support on the Paris climate agreement in the face of opposition by Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, Xi will meet the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, in Paris.

50 deputies from Germany have travelled to France's parliament for the joint session

Historic day’ – French-German parliament meets

France and Germany are holding their first joint parliamentary session as part of their commitment to forging closer ties.

The 50 deputies from each country are from almost all political parties, proportional to their numbers in the national parliaments.

The plan is to convene the new joint parliament twice a year in the future.

It follows the signing of the Treaty of Aachen, which aims to bolster Franco-German co-operation in Europe.

The new parliament’s purpose is to enforce that treaty, signed in January, and to monitor “affairs of common interest” – including foreign policy, security and defence.

The joint parliament will not be legally binding on the national parliaments of either country though.

Monday’s first session is mostly ceremonial and procedural, with the signing the agreement for the joint venture by parliamentary presidents Wolfgang Schäuble of the German Bundestag and Richard Ferrand of the French National Assembly.

Mr Ferrand tweeted a photo of the signing, calling it a “historic day”.

Over time, there are plans for this joint parliament to be part of strengthening links between the national parliaments of both countries.

What is the treaty about?

The Treaty of Aachen was signed by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this year.

At a time when one member of the European Union is leaving, and amid the rise of populism or right-wing politics in several member states, the pair spoke about the need to strengthen European values.

As well as common diplomatic goals, the two nations committed to joint defence and “a common military culture”.

It commits both countries to agreeing a common position – and to issue joint statements – on major EU issues, rather than pursuing separate agendas. They will do the same at the United Nations.

But Italy’s interior minister has been a vocal opponent of what he calls the “Franco-German axis”, and is widely expected to spearhead a Eurosceptic alliance in May’s European elections.

Even European Council President Jean-Claude Juncker issued a warning, at the signing of the treaty, that “strengthened co-operation in small formats is not an alternative to the co-operation of all of Europe.”

Yellow vests banned from Champs-Élysées after riots

French police have banned “yellow vest” protesters from the Champs-Élysées in Paris on Saturday after rioters destroyed businesses last week.

The government has warned that it intends to react severely against any new outbreak of violence.

The government for the first time is deploying soldiers to help maintain security, both in Paris and in Nice.

But there has been widespread criticism over anti-terrorist forces being used as crowd control.

A soldier from the anti-terrorism Sentinelle patrol force told the Franceinfo website of their discomfort at being deployed to control the protests.

“Sentinelle guys are all soldiers – we don’t know how to keep order,” the soldier said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Politicians from across the political spectrum also voiced concerns.

Bruno Retailleau, leader of the main opposition Republicans in the Senate, told the France 5 television channel that the decision was a “serious mistake”

The “yellow vests” (“gilets jaunes”) started protesting in November, initially because of fuel tax rises.

The movement soon evolved into a broader rebellion against perceived elitism, for which activists blame President Emmanuel Macron.


Could the protests escalate further?

Last Saturday shoppers and tourists watched in horror the scenes of lawlessness along the Champs-Élysées, as groups of rioters looted and burned with police seemingly powerless to intervene. The government says that can’t be allowed to happen again.

So for this Saturday, the Paris police chief has been replaced, fines for illegal assembly have been increased, and the area around the Champs-Élysées has been declared off-limits.

For the first time soldiers, normally on anti-terrorism patrols, are to be deployed outside public buildings in order to free up police.

But that’s raised worries about what happens if troops, armed with assault rifles and untrained for riot control, find themselves cornered by a mob.

The government says it won’t happen because police will always intervene first.

Maybe – but the main lessons from four months of yellow vest protests in Paris is that they move quickly from place to place and are very unpredictable.


Following last week’s riots, which resulted in more than 120 arrests, Mr Macron vowed “tough” action.

Paris police chief Michel Delpuech was replaced by Didier Lallement, the top police official in the south-west Nouvelle-Aquitaine region.

Money has been raised for owners of kiosks that were burned out and some were being replaced on Friday.

Concessions were offered to protesters late last year as the movement was picking up speed – including €10bn (£8.5bn; $11bn) designed to raise incomes of the poorest workers and pensioners. But this has not put an end to the riots.

For the past month the president has toured France, listening to local mayors and citizens as part of his “grand débat” – a big national debate.

Are you in the area? Tell us about your experiences by emailing bbcnewslight@mall.com


Protesters in Paris lit fires and vandalised buildings as violence flared once more

Yellow vest protests: Violence returns to streets of Paris

Demonstrators have smashed and looted shops in Paris in a resurgence of the gilets jaunes (“yellow vest”) protests that started four months ago in France.

Rioters torched a luxury handbag store and vandalised an upscale restaurant on the famed Champs-Élysées avenue.

Police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse the protesters. More than 120 people were arrested.

The protests began over fuel tax rises but have since developed into a broader revolt against perceived elitism.

Police say about 10,000 people took part in Saturday’s protest in the French capital, a marked increase compared with similar demonstrations in recent weeks.

Some 32,300 in total took to the streets throughout France, according to the Interior Ministry.

However, police said 36,000 people took part peacefully in a separate march against climate change in another part of Paris.

What’s the latest from Paris?

Protesters threw cobblestones at police at the Arc de Triomphe war memorial.

As well as a surge in numbers on Saturday, there was a return to the levels of violence that characterised the early protests.

French riot police forces stand behind a burning barricade on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on March 16, 2019, during the 18th consecutive Saturday of demonstrations called by the "Yellow Vest" (gilets jaunes) movement.
A fire burns on the Champs-Elysees in Paris during Saturday’s protests
A French riot police officer stands in front of the gutted Le Fouquet's restaurant in Paris. Photo: 16 March 2019
The high-end Fouquet’s restaurant was torched
French police detain a protester in Paris. Photo: 16 March 2019
More than 120 people were arrested in Paris

Fouquet’s – an upscale restaurant popular with politicians and celebrities – was vandalised, as was a Boss menswear store.

Rioters also set fire to the luxury Longchamp handbag store.

Fires were lit in the streets, with at least one car set ablaze, and a bank branch was set alight.

The bank was located on the ground floor of an apartment building, which was engulfed by flames.

The fire service evacuated the residents and extinguished the blaze. Eleven people, including two fire fighters, suffered minor injuries, a spokesman told the AFP news agency.

How did French politicians react?

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said that more than 1,400 police officers had been mobilised.

Mr Castaner said he had given police an order to respond to the “unacceptable attacks with the greatest firmness”.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “Let there be no doubt: they are looking for violence and are there to sow chaos in Paris.”

By mid-afternoon, 129 people were arrested, AFP reports.

Demonstrators throw cobblestones at riot police forces during clashes near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on March 16, 2019
Demonstrators throw cobblestones at police during clashes near the Arc de Triomphe

In January, the government ordered police to crack down on violence in the protests, leading to complaints of police brutality.

President Macron’s ‘grand debate’

President Emmanuel Macron offered concessions to the protesters after the movement swept the nation – including €10bn (£8.5bn; $11bn) designed to boost the incomes of the poorest workers and pensioners – but they failed to quell the discontent.

For the past month, Mr Macron has toured France, listening to local mayors and citizens as part of his “grand débat” – a big national debate.

He has also asked communities to come together and put forward their ideas for how to fix France, and there have so far been 8,253 local meetings.

The yellow vest movement has faced accusations of anti-Semitism in recent weeks after a prominent Jewish philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, was targeted by insults and taunts in Paris.

Officers in Paris intervened to form a barrier after a group of individuals involved in the march confronted Mr Finkielkraut and started verbally insulting him.

The 69-year-old academic told Le Parisien newspaper that he heard people shouting “dirty Zionist” and “throw yourself in the canal”.

A few days before Mr Finkielkraut was attacked, official data suggested there had been a 74% rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France last year.

The demonstrations have been led by young Algerians who say the government is out of touch

Algerian protests against President Bouteflika ‘biggest yet’

Thousands have gathered in Algeria’s capital to demand the immediate resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika despite him dropping his bid for a fifth term.

The BBC’s Mohamed Arezki Himeur in Algiers says it is the biggest protest in memory, with people of all ages packing out the capital’s boulevards.

Police have fired tear gas at protesters near the president’s office.

On Monday, the president postponed the planned 18 April presidential vote.

Protesters, however, accuse the 82-year-old leader of illegally extending his term.

Students have been leading the massive anti-Bouteflika protests which have entered a fifth week. Our reporter says that the latest demonstrations included many families in what has generally been a peaceful and good-natured atmosphere.

The ailing octogenarian rarely appears in public and has not given a public address since having a stroke in 2013. He returned to the country earlier this week after being admitted in hospital in Switzerland.

Algerian anti-riot police are seen from above, huddling in a group.
Anti-riot police have been deployed to tackle Algiers’ biggest day of protests yet
People hold a banner calling the president, the general secretary of the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), the chairman of Algeria's Forum des chefs dentreprises (FCE), and the former prime minister "traitors".
One banner waved by demonstrators called the president, a union leader, the head of a business interest group, and a former prime minister “traitors”

Half of Algeria’s population is under the age of 30 and youth unemployment has spurred anger against the government.

“I want a better future,” 10-year-old Mohamed Kemime told Reuters news agency, draped in Algeria’s national flag.

The appointment of new Prime Minister Noueddine Bedoui and plans to form an inclusive government have failed to assuage the protesters.

What do protesters want?

They have dismissed Mr Bedoui’s plan to form a technocratic government that would include young Algerians.

Algeria protests: What’s behind them?

He said, in his first press conference on Thursday, that the new government would only be in charge for a short time and he urged the opposition to engage in a positive dialogue.

But activists have said they are not ready to compromise or negotiate for now.

“Those who think we are tired are wrong. Our protests will not stop,” Madjid Benzida, a doctor on Friday’s protests, told Reuters.

“We’re completely fed up,” Saïd Benselma, a retired theatre director, told the BBC. “Despite my age, I have to protest.”

“Bouteflika and his men must go as soon as possible,” said 23-year-old student Yazid Ammari.

President Bouteflika’s announcement on Monday that he was dropping his plan to run in elections that would extend his 20-year rule, was initially greeted by celebration but activists now see it as a ploy for the National Liberation Front to hold on to power.

Friday’s demonstrators have gathered at Algiers’ landmark Grand Poste square and have also been chanting against French President Emmanuel Macron who has called for a reasonable transition.

“Macron, go away” they chanted, while hoisting banners with the same slogan.

What happens next?

Talks have been set up to negotiate Algeria’s political future, which will be led by veteran UN diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.

A conference, which does not yet have a set date, will aim to oversee the country’s political transition, draft a new constitution and set the date for elections.

Algerians protesting against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika pictured in the captial, Algiers, on 15 March 2019.
Protesters have filled the streets of the capital city
An elderly Algerian woman wrapped in a national flag walks through a colonnade in Algiers.
People of all ages have been taking part in the demonstrations

Mr Brahimi, who was the United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria until 14 May 2014, met the president on Monday and said it was necessary to “turn this crisis into a constructive process”.

The Algerian military is expected to play an important role in the transition and is currently considering contenders for president, Reuters news agency reports.

Demonstrators and participants in Algeria’s 1954-1962 independence war will also be among the representatives at the conference.

Iraq's President Saleh, left, made the announcement while visiting his French counterpart

French Islamic State accused handed over to face trial in Iraq

Thirteen French citizens accused of fighting for the Islamic State group are to be tried in Iraq rather than face charges back home in France.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh said the 13 were handed over by Syrian Kurdish forces last month.

French President Emmanuel Macron declined to comment, saying it was a sovereign matter for Iraq.

The news comes as several Western countries struggle with the fate of alleged militants returning from Syria.

The UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States have all grappled with the question of whether to allow those who left to join the Islamic State to return – and potentially face prosecution when they do.

What will happen to the French?

The fate of the 13 French citizens was revealed during a press conference between presidents Macron and Saleh in France, following bilateral talks.

They are due to be tried on terrorist charges – which may carry the death penalty under Iraqi law.

French broadcaster BFMTV reports that it will make no difference whether they are accused of directly fighting for the Islamic State group, or merely providing other assistance to it – the penalty remains the same.

In France, the government says those who commit such crimes abroad should be tried in the territory in which the offence occurred, a stance it has repeated recently amid a global debate on returnees from Syria.

Despite facing trial abroad, the French captives can expect the normal consular assistance offered by the republic to any of its citizens jailed in a foreign country.

Iraq’s decision to prosecute the 13 allows France to sidestep the political maze facing many other countries – though some reports suggest there may be dozens of other French captives awaiting a similar fate.

The French case is the latest development in an ongoing crisis about how to treat those who travelled to Syria during its civil war, but now want to return to their home countries in Europe.

What is the wider context?

Kurdish fighters from the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) hold hundreds of prisoners captured during their fight against the IS group. But the SDF is an alliance of militias, and has warned that they cannot prosecute their captives and imprison them indefinitely.

US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has urged European countries to take custody of their citizens and put them on trial – warning that if they refuse, the prisoners may simply be released instead.

The question over their fate has prompted national debate in several countries.

In the UK, there is a national debate over the future of Shamima Begum, who left London in 2015, aged 15, to travel to Syria Now living in a refugee camp, and with a newborn child, she has asked to return.

Shamima Begum: ‘I got tricked and I was hoping someone would have sympathy with me’

The UK has instead said it will strip her of her citizenship – arguing that it can do so despite international law, because she is entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship through inheritance.

Her husband is a Dutch convert to Islam, and is thought to have surrendered to a group of Syrian fighters about two weeks ago. She has previously said she may apply for Dutch citizenship.

And despite President Trump’s urging to European nations to take in their citizens, he has publicly 

Meanwhile, in Belgium, the government is wrapped in a court case to prevent women returning from camps in Syria – though it remains open to taking in their children.

Russia has repatriated more than 100 children whose parents are imprisoned in Syria and Iraq, returning them to family members.