Brexit latest: François Hollande tells Theresa May that talks on EU-UK relations must wait

French President says talks must first determine the terms of the UK's withdrawal from the EU

Lizzie Dearden
Thursday 30 March 2017 10:23
François Hollande has called for ‘clear and constructive’ talks between Europe and the UK
François Hollande has called for ‘clear and constructive’ talks between Europe and the UK

The French President has told Theresa May talks on the UK’s future relationship with the EU must wait until after negotiations on its departure from the bloc, in a fresh blow to the Prime Minister’s plans.

In a phone call this morning, François Hollande said the timetable for talks, set out by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, must be adhered to after Ms May “presented her Government’s approach to discussions”.

She has called for talks on a future trade deal with the EU to take place at the same time as divorce negotiations on Brexit.

Merkel derails May's plan for Brexit by rejecting parallel trade talks

“The President indicated that the talks must at first be about the terms of withdrawal, dealing especially with citizens’ rights and obligations resulting from the commitments made by the UK,” said a summary of the call released by the Élysée Palace.

“On the basis of the progress made, we could open discussions on the framework of future relations between the UK and the EU in accordance with the letter from Mr Tusk."

Mr Hollande told Ms May talks must be held in a “clear and constructive manner, so as to lift uncertainties and to fully respect the rules and interests of the 27-member European Union".

The European Council previously said an “orderly withdrawal” was the priority for 27 remaining member states in a statement that made no mention of trade deals. Mr Tusk plans to unveil negotiating guidelines in Malta on Friday.

Angela Merkel also on Wednesday rejected the prospect of parallel trade talks after Article 50 was triggered to formally kick-start Britain’s departure.

The German Chancellor said the terms of Britain’s future relationship with the EU could be decided soon, but not before those of the split were finalised.

“The negotiations must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship – and only when this question is dealt with can we, hopefully soon after, begin talking about our future relationship,” Ms Merkel said.

In the letter to Mr Tusk that officially triggered Article 50, the Prime Minister said the UK wants to agree a “deep and special partnership” with remaining members of the EU to ensure economic and security cooperation.

“To achieve this, we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU,” she wrote.

“If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms.”

Ms May said the failure to reach an agreement would “weaken” cooperation in the fight against crime and terror, in what Downing Street later insisted was “not a threat”.

When questioned on Mr Hollande and Ms Merkel’s comments, a spokesperson for Number 10 said: “You would expect at the beginning of any negotiation, people to take robust positions.”

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