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liberté, égalité and fraternité,French President Hollande urges Britain to initiate talks, sooner rather than later

French President Hollande Greeting British Prime Minister Theresa May at the foot the entrance to the Elysee Palace

French President Francois Hollande urged Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday to quickly come up with a negotiating stance for Britain's departure from the European Union but agreed she needed time to trigger the formal divorce.



A day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel also endorsed May's call for some breathing space to prepare for formal talks to end Britain's membership, May won acceptance from Hollande of her position not to trigger the formal exit procedure this year.

But the French leader, under pressure after a deadly Islamist attack in Nice and keen to dampen the popularity of Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front, was clear Britain could not put off invoking Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty for long.

"The sooner the better," Hollande told a news conference when asked when France wanted to see Britain start the at-least two-year formal procedure to quit the bloc.

"There can be no discussion or pre-negotiation ... but there may be some preparation for this negotiation. We do understand that your government, which has just been formed, needs this time, but again the sooner the better is in the common interest," the Socialist president said.



In her first foreign trips since becoming prime minister last week, May has been keen to lay the ground for what she described as "constructive" talks with the EU's two most powerful leaders as she tries to navigate the unprecedented and complex divorce talks.


With the biggest member states expected to lead the Brexit talks, May has urged France and Germany not to punish Britain and to maintain strong economic ties despite its decision to leave the EU - something she said could not be undone.


I think it is sensible for us to ensure that the negotiations for Britain leaving the European Union are done in as calm and orderly and constructive a manner as possible and I think that does require some preparation to be made," she said.



"I hope that we can all make the most of the next six months to prepare for these discussions in a constructive way so we maximize the opportunities for both the UK and the EU."



TOUGH

Arriving at the Elysee to members of the palace's republican guard, the new British leader may have been ready for a cool welcome after Hollande, during a trip to Ireland, said May had to justify any foot-dragging over the triggering of Article 50.

But before a dinner of lobster and prawn salad, veal and vegetables, the two leaders said they were looking forward to working together, after Hollande said May had impressed his government on her work as interior minister.

But Hollande suggested it would not be easy.

He, like Merkel, reiterated there could be no formal negotiations on the terms for a post-Brexit Britain before Article 50 and described some of the opt-outs from the EU Britain had already won and the offer made to her predecessor, David Cameron, for a brake on immigration into Britain.



Both said the most testing part of any future negotiation would be Britain's desire to remain part of the EU's lucrative single market, while reducing immigration from the EU.

May, who struggled as interior minister to control migration into Britain, refused to give anything away on how she would balance voters' demands for a reduction in movement with demands from business to keep access to the EU's 500 million consumers.



Described as "utterly intractable" by a Cameron ally, May will be up against not only the equally tough Merkel, but also Hollande, who wants to show the consequences of leaving the bloc to deter Le Pen's National Front push for "Frexit".

Saying he did not want to punish the British people for their decision to leave, Hollande repeated his mantra over a quick divorce. "For France, the sooner the better," he said.

Mr Hollande reaffirmed his support for France's Le Touquet border agreement with Britain, under which the UK operates immigration checkpoints in Calais and Dunkirk, while France has a checkpoint at Dover.

And he thanked the PM for her "message of solidarity" in the wake of the truck attack in Nice.

Mrs May said she understood the need for certainty and that was why she had said she did not intend to trigger article 50, the formal process of leaving the EU, this year.

She spoke briefly in French, stressing the deep friendship between the two countries, before going on to say she wanted to maintain "the closest possible economic relationship".

Prime Minister

President Hollande, thank you for inviting me to Paris.

I am delighted to have this opportunity, so soon after taking office, to underline my commitment to the profound friendship between our countries and our peoples; a friendship that I believe has never been more important than it is today.

A week ago, France suffered another horrific terrorist attack and on behalf of all the British people, I offer our heartfelt condolences to all the loved ones of those who were so callously killed and injured in Nice, including a small number of British casualties.

These were innocent victims, murdered by terrorists who want to destroy our democracy and our way of life.

As the President and I have discussed today, we must never let them win.

Last year, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, we stood together and said to the world that we will not let these extremists divide us.

In November after the devastating attacks in Paris, British fighter pilots joined their French counterparts to attack and destroy Daesh in Syria.

Now, in the aftermath of another attack, it is Britain who will stand with you shoulder to shoulder as your great ally and friend.

The intelligence and security co-operation between our countries is something that will always endure – even after Britain has left the European Union.

As I have said Brexit means Brexit and I firmly believe we will make a success of it, not just for the UK but for our European partners too.

We will continue to work together to keep our people safe and to stand up for our values around the world.

We did so long before the European Union existed and we will continue to do so long after the UK has left.

That means, in addition to our growing co-operation on counter-terrorism, we will strengthen the wider strategic defence partnership between our two countries.
Britain brings a great deal to the table.
We will continue to meet our NATO 

obligation to spend 2 per cent of our GDP on defence and to keep our promise to spend 0.7 per cent of our national income on aid.
This week, as you have said Mr President, I made it my first act as Prime Minister in Parliament to secure the future of our nuclear deterrent.

Together with France, we are also working on the next generation of military equipment – including a 2 billion euro project to develop the most advanced combat air system anywhere in Europe.

Turning to our discussions on trade and economic co-operation, I have said to President Hollande that I want Britain to continue to work with our European partners to boost trade and economic growth in both our countries.

Last year the value of our bilateral trade reached 50 billion euros.

We are one another’s fifth largest export markets. Today French companies employ 360,000 people across the UK and we are the fourth largest investor in France.

This matters for both of us, so as the UK leaves the EU we will have to determine how to maintain the closest possible economic relationship between our countries.
And it will take time to prepare for those negotiations.

I understand the need for certainty and confidence in the markets and that is why I have already been clear that the UK will not invoke Article 50 until before the end of this year.

I hope that we can all make the most of the next six months to prepare for these discussions in a constructive way so that we maximise the opportunities for both the UK and the EU.

In the meantime, I want to reiterate that Britain remains open for business, that French citizens and their EU counterparts can continue to work in Britain - and they are very welcome in the UK.

To conclude, as I have said before, Britain is leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe and we are not walking away from our friendship with France, or any of our other European partners.

Britain and France are two allies that stand together looking out to the world, fighting for the values we share.

As I said in my first speech as Prime Minister in the British Parliament this week: we share a firm belief in the values of liberté, égalité and fraternité.


And together we will always defend them.

Guardian Honey words 


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