Francois Hollande has become the latest EU leader to demand that Britain must pay a heavy economic price for leaving the EU.
The French President – who called the likely hard Brexit the biggest crisis in the EU’s history – said its future depended on a determination to be tough in the talks to follow.
He said: “We need to remain strong. If not, we will threaten the very principles of the European Union. That could lead to other countries or regions wanting to leave the EU to gain so-called benefits but without any inconvenience or rules.”
President Hollande added: “There must be a threat, there must be a risk, there must be a price. Otherwise we will be in a negotiation that cannot end well.”
The comments echo those of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and lay bare rising opposition in EU capitals to Theresa May’s negotiating strategy, revealed at this week’s Conservative conference.
The Prime Minister said she wanted to “operate” within the EU's single market, yet end free movement of people and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Meanwhile, Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, provoked an outcry across the continent with a plan for UK-based companies to list how many foreign workers they employ
Ms Merkel, the German chancellor, won thunderous applause from German business leaders yesterday when she pledged not to allow special concessions for Britain, if it threatened the single market.
Hours later, President Hollande delivered the same message to guests at the 20th anniversary of a pro-EU think tank founded by Jacques Delors, the former EU Commission chief. He recalled how Margaret Thatcher “wanted to stay in Europe, but she wanted a cheque in return”, adding: “Now, the UK wants to leave and pay nothing. It’s not possible.”
The comments are a rebuff to pro-Brexit Cabinet ministers, who have insisted that European exporters will force its leaders to give Britain a good deal on tariff-free access to the single market.
Some analysts suggested they helped trigger the pound’s nosedive on Asian markets on Thursday night, to as low as $1.1841 at one point.
President Hollande is under pressure from a resurgent far-right National Front, which has also demanded a referendum on EU membership.
Italy's deputy foreign minister, told the Financial Times that Britain was starting to resemble the rise of nationalist parties in Hungary and Poland. Mario Giro said it was “taking on those tones that we see in Eastern Europe”, adding: “This is not the UK that we have always known.”
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