Francois Hollande tells Britain to leave the EU as soon as possible

'Uncertainty is the greatest danger,' says French President

Katie Forster,Tom Peck
Thursday 21 July 2016 18:53 BST
French President Francois Hollande (right) greets Theresa May at the Elysee Palace
French President Francois Hollande (right) greets Theresa May at the Elysee Palace (PA)

The sooner Britain leaves the EU the better, French President Francois Hollande has told Theresa May in Paris.

"Uncertainty is the greatest danger," warned Mr Hollande, as he emphasised that to trigger Article 50 as soon as possible would be in Europe's best interest.

The British Prime Minister was greeted at the Elysee Palace in Paris by her French counterpart.

Ms May outlined her plan to strengthen the defence partnership between France and the UK after the terrorist attack in Nice last week.

She said French citizens were still welcome in the UK and were still able to work there.

Brexit did not mean walking away from the "profound friendship" between the two nations, she said.

Mr Hollande also told Ms May that there can be no access to the EU single market without allowing free movement of people.

Hollande Says UK 'Must Accept EU Conditions' for Market Access

At the first meeting the two leaders, Mr Hollande could not have been more unambiguous on the single subject that will define the complex negotiations that will take place between the UK and the EU over the coming years.

“[Free movement] is the most crucial point,” he said.

“That's the point that will be the subject of the negotiation. The UK today has access to the single market because it respects the four freedoms. If it wishes to maintain in the single market it will have to abide by the four freedoms. There cannot be freedom of movement of goods, capital and services if there isn't free movement of people.”

The EU's 'four freedoms', on movement of goods, capital, services and people were agreed in 1993. Access to the single market is dependent on accepting all four. Non-EU countries with access to the single market, such as Norway, have to abide by them too.

“With David Cameron, there had been a number of limited opt outs that in no way hindered the free movement of people.

"It will be a choice facing the UK. Remain in the single market and accept the free movement that goes with it, or accept another status.”

The two leaders spoke at length about the 'special bonds' between the two countries – but it is clear that bond will have little bearing on the forthcoming negotiations.

Ms May again repeated that "Brexit means Brexit" and that meant reducing immigration.

“The British people gave had a very clear message that we should introduce controls on the movement of individuals from Europe into the UK” she said.

“We will deliver on that, but we want to get the right deal on the trade of goods and services.”

The export of financial services into the EU are of fundamental importance to the British economy. To date, no non-EU member nation has been able to secure a trade agreement with access to the single market that includes financial services.

On Wednesday, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel had told Ms May that Britain should 'take your time' over deciding when to invoke Article 50 and formally begin the two year process of leaving European Union. But President Hollande disagreed.

“The sooner the better is in the common interest. We can prepare for discussions but there there cannot be discussions or negotiations [before Article 50 is invoked]. Uncertainty is the greatest danger. The new government needs time, but let me be clear: the sooner the better in the common interest.”

But Ms May stood firm: “It will take time to prepare for those negotiations. I understand the need for certainty and confidence in the markets. But the UK will not invoke Article 50 before the end of this year.”

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