President Macron beat a retreat for the second time in two days as farmers, lorry drivers and students joined the tax revolt that is threatening to derail his presidency.
After announcing a six-month freeze on fuel duties on Tuesday in an attempt to appease popular anger, Mr Macron backtracked again last night and scrapped next year’s rises altogether.
The climbdown was a further humiliation for his government, which had repeatedly ruled out abandoning the planned fuel tax rises which prompted the yellow-vest movement.
In a sign of the panic besetting his presidency, Mr Macron urged opposition parties, business leaders and unions to join him in an appeal for calm. “We have reasons to fear major violence,” a source at the presidential palace told the AFP news agency.
Mr Macron told a cabinet meeting that some followers of the yellow-vest movement — so called because of the high-visibility vests worn by protesters — wanted to attack not only his presidency but also the entire state apparatus. The message was driven home by Édouard Philippe, the prime minister, who told parliament: “What is at stake is the security of the French people and our institutions.”
His words betrayed concern in Paris that extremists on the left and right are seeking to exploit the anti-fuel tax movement to provoke a revolution.
The nervousness within government was underlined when several ministers urged Mr Macron to reverse tax cuts for the wealthy, which he introduced last year to encourage investment in France and lure financial institutions from the City of London after Brexit.
Commentators claimed that the cabinet was tempted to scrap the president’s entire reform agenda in the hope of appeasing his detractors.
Calls grew for Mr Macron to retreat after Mr Philippe announced that the government would suspend a 5 per cent rise in fuel tax for six months, scrap imminent increases in electricity and gas prices, and slash the cost of an MoT-style vehicle test.
The climbdown was met with disdain and failed to stop protesters from blocking roads across the country yesterday.
Protesters said that they wanted the government to ditch the fuel duty rises altogether rather than just suspend them. The prime minister promptly stood up in parliament to say that he would do just that “if we can’t find a good solution”, suggesting capitulation.