Exclusive: Blair and Brown brought together by Pope

Former PMs will meet Pontiff and each other at Westminster Hall + But Blair "not muscling in" says s

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will meet the Pope as they are brought face to face for the first time since the general election when Benedict XVI addresses the great and the good at Westminster Hall next Friday.

The former prime ministers both played a role in encouraging the Papal visit and a source who knows both men said today that "it is one of the few things they agree on".

Speculation that Blair may accompany the Pope on elements of the UK tour has led to whisperings that Blair is trying to "muscle in" on the visit. But a senior Whitehall source today emphatically denied that. "There has not been any of that at all. This trip would not be happening if it were not for Blair -- or his successor," said the source, who also revealed that Blair had not put in a request for a private meeting with the Pope but is expected, along with Brown, to talk to him immediately after the speech. Other former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major are expected to attend the event and -- like Blair and Brown -- sit in the front row.

Both Blair and Brown have visited the Pope at the Vatican. Brown briefly had tears in his eyes when he presented the Pope with a book of his Church of Scotland father's sermons.

One event Blair may attend as an inter-faith one at St Mary's University teacher training college in Twickenham on 17 September, turned down by Prince Charles, who is said to have refused to attend after being denied a one to one meeting with the Pope.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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En français, s'il vous plaît! EU lead negotiator wants to talk Brexit in French

C'est très difficile. 

In November 2015, after the Paris attacks, Theresa May said: "Nous sommes solidaires avec vous, nous sommes tous ensemble." ("We are in solidarity with you, we are all together.")

But now the Prime Minister might have to brush up her French and take it to a much higher level.

Reuters reports the EU's lead Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, would like to hold the talks in French, not English (an EU spokeswoman said no official language had been agreed). 

As for the Home office? Aucun commentaire.

But on Twitter, British social media users are finding it all très amusant.

In the UK, foreign language teaching has suffered from years of neglect. The government may regret this now . . .

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.