Tuesday 21 November 2017

Macron sets out hardline vision for Brexit on Downing Street visit

Emmanuel Macron at 10 Downing Street yesterday
Emmanuel Macron at 10 Downing Street yesterday

Henry Samuel

France's rising political star Emmanuel Macron has warned British leaders that the UK can expect no concessions in Brexit negotiations if he is elected French president, vowing to take a rigid line on access to the EU's single market and the powers of the European Court.

The 39-year-old centrist candidate stood on the steps of Downing Street yesterday and also vowed to lure bankers and talented professionals from Britain as he warned that the future of Franco-British relations was at stake. Mr Macron said he would push for an unbreakable "Franco-German position" to defend the collective interests of the EU, presumably to prevent the UK trying to do individual deals with EU members as talks drag on. He said he would ensure that British withdrawal was fully compliant with the strict terms of EU treaty law.

"I take a classical view of what it means to be a member of the EU. I don't want to accept any caveat or waiver," he told a group of British journalists in London hours before he held a rally to try to woo expat voters.

The comments came after he emerged from an hour-long meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, to discuss the contours of Brexit and a common defence policy. The former Rothschild banker later addressed some 3,500 members of Britain's 300,000-strong community of French expatriates. This crucial constituency is well-aligned with his ideological mix of left-wing social views and reformist free-trade liberalism, and is a major source of funding for grass-roots campaigns. Mr Macron said he was delighted to stage a meeting "in France's sixth city" to quote a "great author, Boris Johnson".

Referring to his meeting with Mrs May, Mr Macron said he told her negotiations over Brexit would "above all be a European affair".

"It must be above all a discussion between the EU and Britain. There cannot be 27 agendas with Britain. If we enter into 27 debates, it's too much. The preservation of Europe, of the common market of the EU, that is at stake. If we don't negotiate well this Brexit, we'll all grow weaker. We must defend French interests."

He said the talks would take "several years", and said France and Europe "must not concede short-term concessions" to the UK concerning Brexit, and the "special relationship between France and Britain must be preserved", notably in defence.

"The key to my strategy is to defend a special relationship between Britain and Europe. And I think it would be a profound error for Britain and Europe alike if it chose the open sea."

The meeting comes at a crucial moment in Mr Macron's presidential run; his promise to enact a "democratic revolution" on a "neither left nor right" ticket has hit turbulence. After a spell out in front, one poll now sees him neck and neck in the election's knock-out first round with the embattled conservative candidate François Fillon.

Polls suggest whichever candidate makes it to round two of the election on May 7 will go on to beat Marine Le Pen, the far-right Front National leader.

Another key event for Mr Macron is whether François Bayrou, a high-profile centrist who came third in the 2007 presidential election, decides to run or throw his weight behind his younger, more urbane alter-ego.

Irish Independent

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