Time is running out for a Brexit deal, French government warns Theresa May

UK

Time is running dangerously low for Britain to strike a deal on its post-Brexit relations with the EU, the French government has warned Theresa May.

The country’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire on Wednesday said that a forthcoming UK policy paper would have to “fully respect the integrity and the rules of the European Union” if it was to stand any chance of being accepted.

Speaking at a financial services conference in Paris, Mr Le Maire said the UK’s draft Brexit proposals published in draft form last week were a positive step but that uncertainty remained.

“Time is running out, and the on-going uncertainty is no good for anyone, in particular for business,” Mr Le Maire said. 

“We want an agreement with the UK but let’s be clear: this agreement has to fully respect the EU’s integrity and rules.”

The finance minister added that for financial services “the only way forward is one based on reviewed and improved equivalence mechanisms” – again dismissing the idea that the City of London could keep its current favourable terms to trade with continental firms.

The senior French minister’s line that the UK will have to accept EU rules echoes statements by European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Time is running out, and the on-going uncertainty is no good for anyone, in particular for business

Burno Le Maire, French finance minister

Mr Barnier said on a visit to the US this week that the EU “will not change who we are as the European Union because the UK is leaving” while Theresa May has in some areas urged the bloc to change its legal frameworks in response to Brexit. 

Mr Le Maire said following the EU referendum in 2016 that Brexit was a “fabulous” opportunity for France because the UK has long been the bloc’s main proponent of deregulated free markets.

The UK’s Brexit white paper is expected to be published later this week, but Conservative eurosceptic rebels have threatened to torpedo the Prime Minister’s plan because they believe it keeps the UK too aligned with Europe.

The PM has said she wants frictionless trade with the EU through a common rulebook and jointly managed customs procedures. The European Commission has indicated that it is likely to reject any plan that it sees as “cherry-picking” the beneficial parts of the EU single market in attempt for Britain to have its “cake” and eat it. 

Mr Barnier has however said he welcomes the fact the UK cabinet appears to becoming to a consensus and looks forward to reading the paper. He said on Tuesday that he believes a deal is roughly 80 per cent done, with 20 per cent more to go.

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