The French president, François Hollande, has stepped up the pressure on the UK over its timetable to leave the EU, insisting that Brexit cannot be cancelled or delayed, and that Britain will have to live with the consequences.
His hardline comments came after a meeting with David Cameron in northern France at the Battle of the Somme centenary commemorations. “The decision has been taken; it cannot be delayed and it cannot be cancelled. Now [the British] have to face the consequences,” Hollande told reporters.
“Being in the European Union has advantages,” added the president, alluding to voters who opted to leave but have since expressed regrets. “And that’s … what the British are starting to understand. Those who were tempted by the Brexit are starting to think it over.”
Hollande said a speedy Brexit “would avert all the uncertainties and instability, especially in the economic and financial domains. The faster it goes, the better it will be for them”.
His timetable is in stark contrast to both Michael Gove and Theresa May, the leading candidates to replace Cameron as Conservative party leader and prime minister, who have said they would not trigger the article 50 process until the end of the year.
But it was echoed in Bratislava by Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European commission, which wants the process to be triggered as soon as a new Conservative leader is elected in September but cannot force the UK to do so.
“There will be no negotiations whatsoever before notification and we are inviting the British authorities to make their intentions clear,” he said. “We do not have time to lose; we cannot add uncertainty to uncertainty.”
Juncker reiterated that Britain would have to accept freedom of movement if it wanted to stay in the single market. “I can’t give in on that point,” he said.
However the question may be slightly more fluid than officially presented, with two Scandinavian countries said to be unhappy that the Brexit reforms Cameron negotiated earlier this year are now off the table.
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SOURCE: The Guardian, Patrick Wintour