Theresa May meets French PM during ‘interesting time’ for Britain

Published: Friday 17th February 2017 by The News Editor

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Theresa May is meeting French prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve for talks during an “interesting time” for Britain as it prepares to formally trigger Brexit.

The Prime Minister has sought to reassure France that the UK would not seek to “cherry-pick” which parts of European Union membership it wants to keep after beginning formal negotiations under Article 50, which she has promised to do by April.

She said her aim to leave the single market, but strike a free trade deal with the EU, including the “greatest possible access” to the trade bloc, does not amount to selectively choosing the best aspects of membership.

Mrs May said she was “delighted” to welcome Mr Cazeneuve to Downing Street on Friday and pointed out that they “worked so well together” when she was home secretary and he was France’s interior minister.

The PM went on: “It’s an interesting time, obviously for the UK, as we prepare to trigger Article 50 for leaving the European Union.

“But there are many issues on which the UK and France have been working very well and our bilateral relationship is very strong and I look forward to being able to develop that across a number of areas, including of course, our defence and security.”

After Mrs May set out her Brexit strategy last month, several leading EU figures warned the UK it will not be able to “cherry-pick” when it comes to negotiating a new relationship with Brussels.

But in an article for French newspaper Le Figaro, she said: “As we leave the EU, we will seek the greatest possible access to the European single market through a new, comprehensive, bold, ambitious free trade agreement.

“This cannot, however, mean retaining membership of the single market. (French) President (Francois) Hollande and other European leaders have been very clear that this would mean accepting the ‘four freedoms’ of goods, capital, services and people and I respect their position.

“Britain understands that EU leaders want to continue with the process of integration.

“We do not, to borrow the phrase, seek to cherry-pick which bits of membership we desire.”

Mrs May also highlighted French interest in a good Brexit deal, pointing out that the UK is France’s fifth-largest export market with bilateral trade worth more than 50 billion euros last year.

“UK companies are responsible for an estimated 230,000 jobs in France, and French companies for about 370,000 jobs in the UK,” she added.

Mrs May stressed the UK will remain an “open and tolerant” country and that French people will “always be welcome in Britain”.

She reiterated her aim of guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals already in the UK, including more than 300,000 French people, and said she hopes France will do the same for Britons living there.

“I will make securing this reciprocal agreement a priority as soon as the negotiations begin, because this is in everyone’s interests,” she said.

Mrs May and Mr Cazeneuve are also set to agree to maintain pressure on Russia over its “aggressive and destabilising” actions in Ukraine.

The PM said in the wake of “horrific” terror attacks over the past two years, Britain will “continue to stand shoulder to shoulder” with France “as a staunch ally and a great friend”.

Published: Friday 17th February 2017 by The News Editor

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