Sunday 11 December 2016

Brexit talks must not drag on, warns Hollande

Sam Lister

Published 22/07/2016 | 02:30

Prime Minister Theresa May holds a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace, Paris. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May holds a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace, Paris. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

French President Francois Hollande has warned that the Brexit negotiations should not be allowed to "drag on".

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Mr Hollande, who has previously said that withdrawal talks under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty "cannot be delayed or cancelled", said: "The sooner the negotiations are open the better, and the shorter the better."

His comments came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Britain should "take a moment" to prepare for withdrawal from the European Union and Ms May indicated that she was unlikely to start the two-year process before the end of 2016.

Negotiations

Mr Hollande had his first meeting with Theresa May as UK prime minister yesterday. She travelled to Paris for a working dinner at the Elysee Palace to discuss Britain's plans to quit the EU following last month's referendum.

After talks in Dublin with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the French president said: "Should the negotiations be shorter? The most important thing is that they should not drag on.

"The sooner the negotiations are open the better, and the shorter the better."

Mr Hollande said that Brexit was "a decision that was taken by the British people" and it was the British people who "will have to bear the consequences".

"Europe will try its best to give its best relationship with the UK," he said.

"But there's a time the politicians have to accept this vote. They have to accept the consequences."

Responding to his comments, Ms May's official spokeswoman said that the Elysee meeting would provide an opportunity for the leaders to "sit down and talk about these issues face to face" and for the PM to set out what her approach will be.

"They have already had a good phone call last week, when she said it was going to take some time to prepare for these negotiations," said the spokeswoman.

The spokeswoman said that Ms May stressed that France is "one of our oldest and most important partners, where the depth of our relationship - particularly on security and defence - is very important for both of us".

She added: "It will be an opportunity to talk about the whole range of important aspects to our bilateral relationship. The PM's clear message will be the importance we attach to that relationship.

"We don't think it should be defined by us both being members of the EU. We can have a strong relationship with the UK outside the EU and France inside."

The working dinner came a day after Mrs May's first meeting as PM with German counterpart Mrs Merkel.

At discussions in Berlin, the Chancellor said Britain should "take a moment" over its plans to sever its ties with Brussels but warned against leaving the negotiations "up in the air".

Mrs May insisted that Germany would "remain a vital partner and a special friend for us" after Brexit.

She added: "All of us will need time to prepare for these negotiations and the United Kingdom will not invoke Article 50 until our objectives are clear.

"That is why I have said already that this will not happen before the end of this year.

"I understand this timescale will not please everyone but I think it is important to provide clarity on that now."

Mr Hollande also said that British people living and working in France could stay "as long as they like", adding that he expected a reciprocal agreement to be reached for French citizens in the UK.

There will also be greater cooperation between the nations on security and anti-terror measures, the two leaders agreed, as they met in the wake of the attacks in Nice.

Stark

However, the French President also signalled that the UK faces a stark choice over access to the single market.

He said the UK currently had access because it respected the full freedoms of the EU but if it wanted to remain it would have to abide by the full freedoms.They could not be separated.

There is now a choice, he added, to remain in the single market and take free movement or have another status that will be subject to negotiation.

He said there was no doubt the UK would leave the EU but uncertainty triggered by a dragging out of the process would be bad for the whole of the EU and its economy.

Irish Independent

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