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[LONDON] French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday he wants London bankers and academics to move to France after Brexit, following a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
"I want banks, talents, academics, researchers and so on. It will be part of my programme to be attractive for these kinds of people," the centrist former economy minister said.
Mr Macron was speaking ahead of a campaign speech to drum up support among London's large community of French voters, as a new poll showed him losing ground ahead of April's first round presidential election.
Addressing reporters outside Downing Street, the former investment banker said he wanted to tell expats living in Britain that "France is changing".
"In the coming years, they'll have a lot of opportunities to come back to France and succeed in France," Mr Macron said.
The centrist candidate, who created his own En Marche! (On the Move!) party, also slammed his far-right rival, National Front leader Marine Le Pen.
He accused her of wanting to "divide France into non-Muslim people and Muslim people", and said her "programme is one to push France into the 19th century".
Opinion polls suggest Ms Le Pen would win the first round of France's presidential election on April 23, but would lose in the run-off vote on May 7.
Mr Macron had been the favourite to take her on, but a new Elabe survey published Tuesday suggests conservative Francois Fillon has now overtaken him.
Despite a damaging investigation into claims that his wife had held a fake parliamentary job, Mr Fillon was up three points to 21 per cent, while Mr Macron was down five to 18.5 per cent.
Ms Le Pen polled at 28 per cent, up two points on the same poll in early February.
As he arrived for talks with Mrs May, Mr Macron said he wanted to discuss "the relationship between France and the UK, Brexit and some very important bilateral issues".
It is unusual for a British prime minister to host a foreign candidate for elected office, although Downing Street noted that former prime minister Tony Blair had hosted Nicolas Sarkozy months before he became French president in 2007.
"Monsieur Macron was in already in London, he asked for a meeting and we were able to accommodate," Mrs May's spokesman told reporters, adding they would have a "broad range of discussions".
Asked if Mrs May would be prepared to meet Ms Le Pen, he said: "There's a long-standing policy that we don't engage with the Front National." Britain is home to an estimated 300,000-plus French expats, largely based in the capital.
Mr Macron was due later to address 3,000 of them at the Methodist Central Hall, opposite the Houses of Parliament.
Conservative leader Mrs May promised a close post-Brexit relationship with France on security and defence as she met with French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in London on Friday.