France gets new prime minister as Édouard Philippe resigns

Philippe’s popularity has grown, as Macron’s has slipped, during the coronavirus crisis

Édouard Philippe arrives for a meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris on Thursday. Photograph: EPA

Édouard Philippe arrives for a meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris on Thursday. Photograph: EPA

 

Édouard Philippe has been replaced as France’s prime minister after seeing the country through the coronavirus crisis, as president Emmanuel Macron embarked on a high-stakes reshuffle to “set a new course” for the last two years of his mandate.

On Friday, Mr Macron named Jean Castex (55), a career civil servant from the centre-right of French politics who co-ordinated France’s exit from lockdown and is widely known as “Monsieur Deconfinement”, as Mr Philippe’s successor. The Élysée Palace said Mr Castex would form the next government.

The palace said on Friday morning that Mr Philippe – who dined with Mr Macron on Wednesday and met him again on Thursday, and whose calm, unshowy handling of the pandemic has made him increasingly popular – had submitted his resignation. Sources in the president’s office insisted the discussions between the two men had been warm and friendly, with both agreeing on “the need for a new government to embody the next phase, a new path”, Reuters reported.

Mr Macron on Friday praised Mr Philippe’s “outstanding work” in the past three years.

In French government reshuffles, the prime minister tenders their resignation before new cabinet appointments, but can still be reappointed to the position.

The Élysée statement said: “Mr Édouard Philippe has today handed his resignation from the government to the president of the republic who has accepted it. He will remain, with other members of the government, to deal with current matters until the nomination of a new government.”

Deliver details

During the Covid-19 crisis it fell to Mr Philippe to deliver details, while Mr Macron painted the bigger picture. During news conferences, Mr Philippe appeared reassuring and serious as he outlined lockdown rules and other unpopular regulations deemed necessary during the health emergency.

His popularity has grown as Mr Macron’s has slipped, with the latest polls suggesting Mr Philippe had the confidence of up to half of French voters, with the president trailing at between 33 per cent and 39 per cent.

Mr Philippe (49) was appointed in 2017 after Mr Macron’s presidential election victory. At the time he was a member of the centre-right Les Républicains (LR) party. He left LR but never joined the governing centrist La République En Marche.

The announcement of his resignation came days after Mr Philippe was re-elected mayor of Le Havre with a large majority. There had been persistent reports since the end of France’s strict two-month lockdown in May that Mr Macron would reshuffle his government in an attempt to reboot his presidency, and speculation that Mr Philippe may be replaced as prime minister. – Guardian