07/05/2017 19:08 BST | Updated 08/05/2017 00:53 BST

Emmanuel Macron's Victory Over Marine Le Pen Prompts Wave Of Relief From UK

'The French have chosen hope over fear and unity over division'.

Independent Emmanuel Macron has comfortably beaten far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election, the first exit polls suggest.

With polling stations closed at 7pm local time, one projection had Macron on 65.5% and Le Pen on 34.5%.

Others had a similar margin of victory, bigger than the projections ahead of the vote that showed centrist Macron with about a 20-point lead.

There were almost instant reactions from UK politicians.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said:

“I would like to congratulate Emmanuel Macron on his election as France’s new President. This is not just a victory for France, but a victory for Britain and the liberal values we hold dear.

“A National Front win would have posed a grave threat to our national interest.

“Emmanuel Macron has kept the wolves from our door, but we must never be complacent in the fight against racism, fascism and the far-right.

“The liberal values of tolerance, openness and free trade that triumphed in France today can triumph in Britain too.

“Together we can change Britain’s future, stand up to Theresa May’s hard Brexit agenda and keep our country open, tolerant and united.”

Though not everyone was thrilled.

Le Pen swiftly said she has called Macron to congratulate him and says the vote confirms her National Front party and its allies as the leader of France’s opposition.

In a sombre speech following his victory, the president-elect acknowledged divisions in society had driven people to “vote to the extreme” but said “a new page” of France’s history was opening. Macron later said:

“This is a new democratic landscape. Today you’ve agreed to put your trust in me and it’s a great honour and responsibility, as nothing was written in stone.

“I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart. I want to speak to all citizens now. No matter who you voted for, I do not hold anything against you.

“We need to deal with the economy and the moral weakness of the country. I want to address my opponent, Marine Le Pen.

“I know the divisions of our nations have pushed people to extremes and I know the anger and the doubt in our country. It’s my duty to listen to this.

“It’s about organising solidarity, fighting all forms of inequality and discrimination, ensuring unity and guaranteeing the security of the nation.”

Minutes after the first results were released, Le Pen said she would call for a new political force as legislative elections loom in June.

She hinted that her party may rename itself from the National Front, which has been dogged by allegations of racism and anti-Semitism since it was founded by her father.

“I call on all patriots to join us,” she said. “France will need you more than ever in the months ahead.”

Le Pen said she got 11 million votes. If confirmed, that would be double the score of her father, National Front co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, at the same stage in the 2002 presidential election.

Macron was looking to build on his first-round victory and rally a wide range of French voters against Le Pen. 

France’s election is a crucial moment for both the country and the European Union.

Le Pen had promised to follow the UK and pursue a French exit from the EU, a move that would likely lead to the collapse of the trading bloc.

Macron was running on a pro-EU platform, promising to reform the union and bring back economic prosperity to France. 

Theresa May was quick to offer her congratulations to Mr Macron.

In a phone call, the pair “briefly” discussed Brexit and the Prime Minsiter “reiterated that the UK wants a strong partnership”, Downing Street said.

POOL New / Reuters
Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche!, or Onwards!, and Marine Le Pen, of the French National Front (FN) party, prior to the start of a live prime-time debate.

The vote was being watched as the biggest test yet of how much support there is for France’s far-right.

Similar right-wing populist figures have gained popularity across Europe. Many of these leaders, including Le Pen, have played on ethno-nationalist sentiment, declaring they would implement laws targeting immigrants and Muslims.

However, Macron’s victory marked the third time in six months - following elections in Austria and the Netherlands - that European voters shot down far-right populists who wanted to restore borders across Europe.

Macron, who has never held elected office, has told the electorate that he is neither left, nor right wing, but “for France”.

Macron is a staunch Europhile and wants an open economy, including closer cooperation with the rest of Europe.

He said in his manifesto that he hopes to entice British business and banks to relocate to Paris. 

The centrist wants to invest in green energy and to train tradesmen to reduce youth unemployment.

He has also promised to crack down on those claiming unemployment benefits who repeatedly turned down job offers. 

In a last-minute intervention, former US President Barack Obama backed the centrist candidate in a video tweeted by Macron on Thursday.

Obama said he supported Macron because he appealed to “people’s hopes and not their fears”. He ended the message with the words ‘Vive la France’.