UK Politics

Hollande urges UK to start Brexit talks as soon as possible

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Media captionFrancois Hollande said he "respected" the decision of the British people to leave the EU, but added, "the sooner, the better"

France's president has said UK Brexit talks should begin soon and that being in the single market meant accepting freedom of movement.

Meeting Theresa May for talks in Paris, Francois Hollande said he recognised the UK needed time to prepare but stressed: "The sooner the better."

He said the UK's choice was to stay in the single market and accept freedom of movement or to "have another status".

Mrs May said she would deliver on demands for "controls" on movement.

Greatest danger

During a joint press conference with the UK's prime minister following talks at the Elysee Palace, he said he respected the UK's decision to leave the EU and said, in terms of a timescale for negotiating a new relationship: "For France, the sooner the better."

"There cannot be discussions or pre-negotiations before the negotiations, but we can of course prepare these negotiations and we can understand that your government, that's just been formed, needs this time."

He said uncertainty was the greatest danger and also repeated France's argument that the UK could only get access to the single market if it accepted the free movement of people.

"It will be a choice facing the UK - remain in the single market and then assume the free movement that goes with it or to have another status. That will be the subject of the negotiation."

He added: ""None can be separated from the other. There cannot be freedom of movement of goods, free movement of capital, free movement of services if there isn't a free movement of people."

Analysis by the BBC's Hugh Schofield, in Paris

There was much at this news conference of the permanent relationship between the UK and France - of the alliance which both leaders said pre-dated the EU and would outlast Brexit.

The atrocity in Nice a week ago was a chance for Theresa May to extend her feelings to the families of those killed and injured, and for Francois Hollande to speak of strong co-operation on security and defence.

That was the agreeable backdrop both leaders sought to conjure up in the full knowledge that the coming reality - the negotiation over Brexit - will not be easy.

The prime minister seems to have won her way over the timing of article 50 - the French are not going to make a problem if it's put off until early next year. But President Hollande said that on the key issues of access to the single market and free movement of people, the UK had to understand: you don't get one without the other.

But 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".

The prime minster said bilateral trade between the UK and France reached 50bn euros last year, each was the other's fifth largest export market, French companies employed 360,000 people across the UK while the UK was the fourth largest investor in France.

"So as the UK leaves the EU we will have to determine how to maintain the closest possible economic relationship between our two countries - and it will take time to prepare for those negotiations."

But she added that the EU Referendum had seen a "very clear message that we should introduce some controls to the movement of individuals from the countries of the European Union into the UK".

"I'm clear that the government should deliver and will deliver on that for the British people but we also want to get the right deal on the trade in goods and services and I think this is important economically not just for the United Kingdom but for other countries within the European Union as well."

Nato obligations

She also stressed that France and the UK would continue to work together on issues such as counter-terrorism and defence and Britain would "meet our Nato obligation to spend 2% of our GDP on defence and to keep our promise to spend 0.7% of our national income on aid".

It comes after she held talks about Brexit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said such encounters were currently at a "getting to know you" stage, with EU leaders waiting to see what the UK wants to achieve from the negotiations.

On Wednesday, at a joint press conference with Mrs Merkel, Mrs May said the UK was in no rush to trigger the two-year process of leaving the EU - telling reporters that although "this would not please everyone" it was right to hold off until the UK's "objectives were clear".