Mr. Mayor, Ladies & Gentlemen,
My wife and I could not be more delighted to join you this evening in Nice and to be back in France, a country that we have both admired for as long as either of us can remember.
This, believe it or not, is my thirty-third official visit to France – a rather remarkable tally which, it seems to me, is a function not only of my advancing years, but of the special closeness between our two countries and the indispensable relationship that we enjoy.
We are neighbours by Fate, partners by choice and friends because of the shared experience and deep affection that binds us. Time and again we have stood together, and struggled together, for the values that we both cherish. These are ties that bind – and ones that will endure, as our relationship continues to evolve.
Over the years, on the battlefields and in the cemeteries of Northern France – most recently last month at Villers-Bretonneux – it has been a special privilege to join acts of remembrance for the terrible sacrifice that our countries made, with our allies, in the First World War. Tomorrow – V.E. Day – in Lyon, my wife and I will join the people of that city to remember the other great conflict of the last century when, together, we held firm against tyranny and oppression.
Now, faced with new threats, our countries continue to stand in solidarity. Earlier this afternoon, we were deeply moved to meet some of those whose lives were torn apart so cruelly by that barbaric attack on the Promenade des Anglais in July 2016, as well as members of the emergency services whose professionalism made such a difference on that dreadful night.
There are no words that can bring back those whose lives were taken, or heal the wounds of those who have lost so much. It was, however, important for us to be able to convey just how much the people of the United Kingdom mind about what happened in Nice that night – just as we all did about the attacks in Paris in 2015, and as the people of France did – and expressed so movingly – after last year's attacks in London and Manchester. Our countries and our people stand together in defiance of hate and in determined support of the values that we share.
Ladies and Gentlemen, our values bring us together and, it seems to me, the rich web of connections between our people – their friendships, their businesses, the exchanges of every kind – keep us close to one another.
These connections go far wider and deeper than just those between our capital cities – as vital as they are – which is why it means so much to us that, on this visit, we should come to a different part of France to celebrate the vibrant and vital connections between our two countries.
The links between this region and the United Kingdom are remarkably dynamic and varied and make such a difference to our societies and our economies. Meeting so many fascinating people this evening, doing such marvellous things to strengthen the relationship between our countries, I have nothing but the greatest confidence that it will continue to go from strength to strength.
Of course, this part of France has long been particularly adored by the British, including by my own forebears. My great-great-great-grandmother,Queen Victoria, came to the Cote d’Azur nine times during the latter part of her life and Nice became an especially cherished escape for her. There is, I know, a rather lovely statue of her just up the road from here in Cimiez.
On one of her last visits, Queen Victoria wrote in her journal "Alas! My last charming drive in this paradise of nature, which I grieve to leave, as I get more attached to it every year. I shall mind returning to the sunless north, but I am so grateful for all I have enjoyed here."
Ladies and gentlemen, I can only understand too well Queen Victoria’s deep affection for this very special part of France for, as brief as our visit is on this occasion, we will take with us such special memories. And like so many of our fellow countrymen and women who visit this region every year, we will leave determined to return before too long.
It only remains for me to thank you, Mr. Mayor, for your marvellous hospitality this evening and for the very special welcome that we have been given in Nice; and to thank all of you, Ladies and Gentlemen, for joining us here this evening and for everything that you do to benefit our two countries. As we have stood together in the past, I know that France and the United Kingdom will continue to stand together in the future. Your efforts in support of our indispensable partnership are as vital as they are deeply appreciated.
Thank you very much.