British Prime Minister David Cameron took a fresh dig at cross-channel rival France on Monday, warning that French banks would flee to Britain if Paris introduces a financial transactions tax.

"/> British Prime Minister David Cameron took a fresh dig at cross-channel rival France on Monday, warning that French banks would flee to Britain if Paris introduces a financial transactions tax.

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DAVID CAMERON

French banks should come to Britain: Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron took a fresh dig at cross-channel rival France on Monday, warning that French banks would flee to Britain if Paris introduces a financial transactions tax.

French banks should come to Britain: Cameron
World Economic Forum

In comments aimed squarely at Nicolas Sarkozy after the French president reportedly criticised British industry, Cameron said the concept of the tax at a time of economic difficulty was “mad” and “extraordinary”.

“I know I used the word mad, but I do think it’s an extraordinary thing to do,” he told a press conference after a European Union summit in Brussels, referring to the introduction of the tax.

“The European Commissioner has told us this would cost Europe half a million jobs. Now when we’re all fighting for jobs and for growth, to do something that would cost so many jobs does seem to me to be extraordinary.

“And in the spirit of this healthy competition with France, if France goes for a financial transactions tax then the door will be open and we’ll be able to welcome many more French banks, businesses and others to the UK.”

“We’ll expand our economy in that way as well as by rebalancing it, because I think this is the wrong move.”

In a televised speech on Sunday, Sarkozy announced plans to introduce a 0.1 percent tax on financial transactions to come into effect from August this year in France.

He said in the same speech that Britain had no industry left, but while the British press played up the French president’s comments, Cameron played down suggestions of a rift.

Asked if he would be backing the French president’s re-election this year — as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party said she would — Cameron said he was a “big supporter and friend of Nicolas Sarkozy and I wish him well.

“I think he’s a remarkable man, I worked with him very closely over the Libya conflict, I think that was probably the closest that the British and French have worked together in the last 40 years, so I’m full of admiration for Nicolas,” he added.

“Every now and again he says something I don’t agree with — today when he said that Britain is short of industry, we actually have a larger industrial sector than France.”

Relations have been stormy between the two in recent months.

In December when Cameron criticised the eurozone’s efforts to tackle its debt crisis, Sarkozy reportedly snapped that — as Britain is not part of the single currency — Cameron should shut up.


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NICOLAS SARKOZY

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée

Right-wing candidates for the French presidential election face off in the first round of a US-style primary on Sunday with former president Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-prime minister Alain Juppe fighting to avoid being knocked out by an outsider.

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée
Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

In a contest overshadowed by the election of Donald Trump in the United States, support for the early favourite Juppe has slipped and Francois Fillon, who served as prime minister under Sarkozy, has risen fast.

The right-wing nominating contest is crucial because with the French left divided, the winner is expected to go on to take the presidency in May, beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff.

Juppe, 71, entered the two-month-long contest with polls showing him to be France's most popular politician, but his approach of playing the moderate against the fiery Sarkozy and the conservative Fillon appears to be backfiring.

Most polls now show Juppe and Sarkozy are neck-and-neck at around 30 percent, with Fillon close behind after making striking progress in recent weeks.

The two winners on Sunday will go through to the second round run-off a week later.

Two becomes three

“We were expecting a duel but in the end a three-way contest has emerged,” political scientist Jerome Jaffre said in Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday.

Many have noted that 62-year-old Fillon's rise had coincided with the publication of his latest book entitled “Beating Islamic totalitarianism”.

An often confused final TV debate of the seven candidates on Thursday offered few clues about the possible outcome, although viewers polled afterwards said Fillon had performed the strongest.

Sparks flew when Sarkozy was asked about fresh claims that he received millions in funding from the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 campaign.

Sarkozy called the question “disgraceful” and refused to answer.

Turning to the Trump effect, the former president said a more isolationist America created “a fantastic opportunity for France and Europe to re-establish a leadership role” on issues including border security and the reform of the UN Security Council.

“The next five years will mark the return of France and Europe to the international scene. America won't be there to put us in the shade,” he said.

Juppe meanwhile said the Trump-era heralded a triple “shock” — in the areas of trade, defence and the environment.

A return to protectionism would be “a tremendous regression”, Juppe said, while warning Europe against being “naive” in its dealings with the United States.

The three leading candidates have similar programmes, underpinned by pledges to reinforce domestic security in a country still under a state of emergency following a series of jihadist attacks.

They also share a desire to reinforce European borders and reduce immigration, while tax cuts also loom large.

The choice will come down to style.

Sarkozy has emphasised his tough-guy credentials, saying it makes him a better choice to handle Trump than the mild-mannered Juppe.

Fillon, who is popular in the business world, has promised “radical” economic measures but is the most conservative of the three on social issues.

Another unknown factor in Sunday's first round is the number of left-wing voters prepared to pay two euros and sign a declaration that they subscribe to “the values of the centre and the right” to vote in the right-wing primary.

Those who do are expected to vote against 61-year-old Sarkozy, who remains a highly divisive figure in France four years after he left office.

When the right-wing candidate is chosen on November 27, it is expected to trigger an announcement from deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande on whether he intends to bid for re-election.

On Wednesday, Hollande's former economy minister Emmanuel Macron announced he would stand as an independent.

by AFP's Guy Jackson

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