Brexit vote

Hollande tells May: get moving on Brexit

Hollande tells May: get moving on Brexit
François Hollande arrives for the Bastille Day parade. Photo: Stéphane de Sakutin/Pool/AFP
French President François Hollande has called on British Prime Minister Theresa May not to delay her country’s exit from the EU, claiming that Brexit threatens the fragile French economy.

“The sooner Theresa May starts the procedure for the UK to leave the EU, the better relations between the UK and the EU will be,” Hollande said in his traditional Bastille Day televised address, which he also used to threaten to sack his rebellious economy minister, Emmanuel Macron.

Hollande warned that Britain would not be able to have its cake and eat it in its negotiations to leave the EU: 

“The UK outside the EU cannot have what it had on the inside.”

Some British politicians on the Leave side have been demanding access to the EU’s single market, while insisting that they would not accept the free movement of people.

The President, who faces the voters next year, said that while the French economy was improving external events such as Brexit made it fragile.

“I am acting to ensure that Brexit has the smallest possible effect on our economy,” he said.

Earlier, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had criticised new British foreign minister Boris Johnson, whom he accused of lying in the EU referendum campaign.

France has been one of the EU countries most positive towards Brexit, with Hollande previously hinting that Paris could benefit from financial services companies fleeing London.

Hollande also said he would join with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to form a programme to boost investment in the continent.

“We will double European investments in the next five years,” he said.

Remaining on the subject of Europe, he called for national parliaments to have a greater role in European decision-making.

Hollande used the speech to defend his economic policy, saying that 8 million households would benefit from tax cuts this year, and promised further cuts if growth outstrips 1.7 percent in 2017.

He also mounted a strong defence of his controversial labour law reforms:

“In order to stimulate employment, it was necessary to give companies room for manoeuvre.”

“I think that my strategy – not removing rights from employees while at the same time improving companies competitiveness  – was the right one,” he said.

“If you don’t want to be unpopular, it’s better to do nothing. That’s not my conception of political action,” he said.

But he issued a strong warning to his rebellious Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, who has set up his own political movement and has been hinting that he might run against the president in 2017:

“Emmanuel Macron has accompanied me since 2012. He wants to meet the citizens, and that is useful and always positive.”

“There are rules, however. If you don’t respect them, you can’t stay in government.”