Thu, Mar 09, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Brexit to strip Britain of all EU perks, French president says

Britain ‘has made a bad choice at a bad moment,’ Francois Hollande said, adding that he ‘will not give in to despair’ over the EU’s future or the far right

By Angelique Chrisafis  /  The Guardian, PARIS

Illustration: Mountain People

French President Francois Hollande has warned that Britain cannot hang on to the advantages of EU membership after it leaves, saying his message to Britain is: “That’s not possible; the UK will become an outsider to the European Union.”

In an interview with the Guardian and five other European newspapers as he prepares to host a summit in Versailles to discuss the future of the EU after Britain’s departure, Hollande said he regretted Britain’s decision to leave, but stressed France’s long-held position that the UK could not exit the EU while holding on to any of the perks of membership.

The UK, which is expected to trigger the Article 50 process to leave the EU within weeks, has been optimistic about finding trade agreements with the EU and an advantageous compromise on financial services.

However, Hollande said the government would not be able to find an alternative in relations with Washington under US President Donald Trump.

“The UK’s problem is this: It had thought that in leaving Europe it would tie up a strategic partnership with the US, but it now happens that the US is closing itself off from the world. The UK has made a bad choice at a bad moment. I regret that,” he said.

Hollande hosted a mini-summit with the leaders of Germany, Spain and Italy in Versailles on Monday night to prepare the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Those Rome celebrations — to take place without the UK on March 25 — are to include a declaration on the future of the EU post-Brexit. Several options for the shape of the future of the bloc have been put on the table. Hollande said the option of having a “multi-speed” Europe, with different countries integrating at different levels, had been resisted for a long time, but was now becoming a possibility. If not, he warned, Europe could break up.

France will push for a more integrated European defense policy, something that Britain had strongly opposed in recent years. However, Hollande said the door would be open for the UK — which has very close bilateral military ties to France — to have a clear link to any integrated European defense project.

“In my mind, the UK, even outside the EU, should be associated with that,” he said.

France is keen to use the Trump presidency to rally Europeans behind closer defense policy. Hollande said Trump’s suggestions that the US military should disengage from the international arena and defense cooperation had given a new momentum to plans for closer European defense.

Europe had to avoid depending on any outside powers that might leave it in a “submissive” role, he said.

Asked whether Trump worried him, Hollande said: “This is not just about emotion or fear, it’s a political reality for four years.”

He said it was clear that Trump’s line of action was isolationism, protectionism, closure to immigration and dodging budget rules.

“As for his ignorance of what the European Union is, that means we must prove to him the EU’s political cohesion, its economic weight and its strategic autonomy,” he said.

Hollande leaves office in May after becoming the first French president since World War II to decide his position was not strong enough to run for re-election.

He has staked his final weeks in office on pushing France’s role in defining the future course of the EU, post-Brexit, saying he would not “give in to despair” that the EU was in crisis.

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