French President Emmanuel Macron looked beyond the current tensions with Britain over Brexit on Thursday as he paid tribute to outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May and hoped for a “common future” on the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
May’s trip to Normandy for the anniversary came the day before she formally steps down as ruling Conservative Party leader on Friday after announcing her resignation in the wake of her failure to end the deadlock over Britain’s exit from the European Union.
She will remain as prime minister and acting party leader until her successor is chosen.
“I feel it’s my duty to pay tribute to her (Theresa May) and to do everything I can to keep our countries united,” Macron told reporters in Normandy.
“Even if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, it is vital that the relationship between our countries stays strong.”
Britain’s prime minister “has acted with courage and resilience. She kept going through difficult months to implement the decision of the British people, despite many internal political disagreements,” he said.
“Whatever it takes, we will always stand together because it’s our common destiny,” Macron said in English at the commemorations earlier.
The two leaders launched the construction of a new British memorial at Ver-sur-Mer in tribute to the thousands of British soldiers who died in the invasion on June 6, 1944 to liberate much of Europe from Nazi rule.
“The current debate takes nothing away — on the contrary — from the strength of our shared history and our common future,” Macron said, referring to the contentious Brexit negotiations.
“It was a pleasure to work and act in confidence with you,” Macron said. “Leaders change, but their work remains”.
In front of a handful of veterans of the 1944 invasion, May praised their courage.
“Standing here as the waves wash quietly onto the shore below us, it’s almost impossible to grasp the raw courage it must have taken that day to leap from landing craft and into the surf, despite the fury of battle,” she said.
Macron said Monday that he fully accepted being the “bad guy” in negotiations over Brexit during which he has taken a tough line with London.