French President Macron: "Make Our Planet Great Again"

Emmanuel Macron was 16 when I started to work for Tony Blair. That doesn't just make me feel old. It makes me jealous that it is France not Britain that has that sense of energy that political change and dynamic leadership can bring, while here...well, you know the story of the election. As for Brexit, it makes me sad, and angry, at a change which I feel swims against the tide of history.

I am an unashamed Francophile. I know they can be a pain, a bit over boastful in still thinking they do the best food and coffee...but it is a wonderful country with wonderful people and I wish our relations could move beyond the media clichés. Last June's events made me even more Francophile, as I sense the looming loss of something important. I am not just a Remoaner, nor even just a Remainiac, I am a Re-intend to bang on and on about it and hope amid the chaos of recent times there will be a RE-think.

One of the failings of the Remain campaign was that amid all the dire warnings of Project Fear, there was no real hope, and no love for Europe. The message was "we know it's awful but we will make it less awful." That played into the hands of Leave. So yes, it might be too late, who knows? But we are living in a political world defined by turmoil and change, in which anything can happen, including a reversal of this madness.

The Government says we are leaving the EU, not Europe. But to me I feel if we leave the EU, for all its faults and annoyances, we are certainly leaving Europe as we know it. We are leaving a Union that has been a big part of the peace and relative prosperity that my and your generations have enjoyed. And we are doing it for the wrong reasons. We have decided to make "Europe" the blame vehicle for genuine issues of inequality, and the fear of loss of control over the pace of change.

We all have our own unique sense of identity. I was born in Yorkshire, yet because of my parentage I consider myself to be Scottish. Also a Northerner, yet I have lived all my adult life in the South. A Londoner even, for all my children were born here – third generation London born Scots. And European too. Not European because of geography but because of heart.

One of the best years of my life was spent as an assistant d'anglais in a school in Nice forty years ago. I can remember arriving at Nice station, one suitcase, no idea where I was even spending the night, breathing in the warm summer air and thinking "wow, I am living abroad." In that moment was born a love of France that has endured, cemented that year by so many wonderful experiences of people, of language, and yes, a little bit of love.

I also remember my mother saying that as we were heading to the Common Market, foreign languages would come in handy, which is partly why I did French and German A level and then a degree.

Inside the EU I can be British, Scottish and European. Outside I feel I can only be British and Scottish, and who knows where that debate is heading. Right now I feel a big chunk of my identity, and more importantly that of my children, is being hacked away.

Can anyone name me a country, democracy or dictatorship, at any time in history, which built success by governing against the interests of its younger generation? There were lots of reasons why more young people voted Labour in the general election. But one, for sure, was the response to that feeling so many of them had on June 24 last year, when they didn't bother to vote and woke to see their future being taken away from them. That is why I hope their support for Jeremy Corbyn makes him see a changed stance on Brexit must be a part of maintaining and building on that support, though the signs he and John McDonnell are giving do not leave me hopeful.

But I do hope we can stop the latest Brexit Big Lie being pushed by the Tories, that 80 percent of voters voted for Brexit in the election. I voted Labour. I did not vote for Brexit. I voted Labour in part to stop Mrs May getting the landslide she wanted to deliver the hard Brexit for which she now has no mandate.

It is hard to understand why this rupture is happening now. As recently as 2008, Gordon Brown said that "there has never been greater cooperation between France and Britain as there is now". David Cameron said much the same, then called his damned referendum. President Sarkozy also urged both countries to "overcome our long-standing rivalries and build together a future that will be stronger because we will be together". He also said "If we want to change Europe my dear British friends—and we Frenchmen do wish to change Europe—we need you inside Europe to help us do so, not standing on the outside." This is the great irony. I think Macron and Merkel may well lead the reform which Brexit has part inspired but from which we will not benefit.

Theresa May
Theresa May attends a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk during a EU leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

And whatever our differences, they are as nothing when set in the context of our history. 1066 the first armed conflict between us; the hundred years war the longest, the war of the Spanish succession, the French role against Britain in the war of American independence, our role on the side of Royalists in the French revolution, Seven Years' War, Napoleon, Nelson and Waterloo, then entente cordiale 1904, a new century, a new approach, on the same side in the two world wars, and the cold war, and in setting up NATO, and OK de Gaulle had his differences and his veto but we got there in the end. For all the difficulties over Iraq in recent years remarkable closeness on defence and foreign policy.

And of course that wonderful tunnel which is now a fantastic symbol of our closeness.

So where are we now on our shared journey? Where does it all go? Well, it is hard to escape politics right now. I think we have felt a little superior recently... for years I was asked by the French, why can't we get a Tony Blair? Meanwhile back in Britain, he has been relentlessly negativised. Now you have Macron. We have May. Both have just had campaigns which broke the mould. His literally creating a new party, a new political force at a time it is so needed. Hers entering the history books, to be studied for years hence, as perhaps the worst campaign in modern history.

The tragedy of Brexit for me is that if Europe had the 3Ms of May, Merkel and Macron working in unison they would be more than a match for the dangerous madnesses that T for Trump is bringing to our world. 3M > T.

"Make Our Planet Great Again" was the response of Macron to the Trump Paris withdrawal, a neat, cutting twist on Trump's claim that he is merely delivering on his election promises to "Make America Great Again." His approach won plaudits all over the world. Mrs May declared herself "disappointed."

Compare and contrast once more Macron's campaign. When he had trade unionists protesting against him, he went out and argued with them for two hours until at least he got his point over. Not for him the preaching to the converted approach that seems to define our campaigns.

When he seemed to be losing support both to the hard left of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the hard right of Le Pen over his support for the EU and for decent liberal values, instead of retreating in the face of glib uncosted solutions to problems or the language and rhetoric of hate, as our leaders have done in bowing down to Euroscepticism, he strode out into the hate and the glibness, argued against them with passion and belief and an understanding of where a better future lay, and he was rewarded for his courage.

We saw the same with Angela Merkel in her handling of the refugee crisis, sticking to what she believed to be right and she too is likely to be rewarded for leadership and convictions when she faces the electorate in September.

Neither will have it easy. Winning a fourth term would be an extraordinary achievement for Merkel. And France is a serially difficult country to govern, its people forever voting for change and then rebelling when they are confronted with the change in practice.

The one thing we know about Merkel is that she knows what she stands for, and works effectively and consensually for change she believes in. And the one thing becoming clear about Macron is that he has guts by the bucketload to go with the charisma and energy.

As Trump and Putin do their worst, thank God that at least two Ms are there to stand up for what they, and so many others in most of the countries of the world, believe in. I might not be able to join them, but there have definitely been times in recent months I wished I could vote for them. And as we stumble through the Brexit negotiations minefield, I hope the recently expressed invitation, by Macron and Wolfgang Schauble, to leave the door open, stays open till the point when the country realises, we have to think again, and change course.

We must keep the dream alive that Britain stays where it should be, a strong, proud, leading player in Europe, and in the European Union too.

This is an edited version of Alastair Campbell's speech at The Guildhall during the Franco-British Young Leaders' gathering