UK fears French could block Brexit plan, memo suggests

Handwritten notes by an aide to the Conservative government suggests London fears the French will try to stop Britain getting the Brexit deal it wants.

UK fears French could block Brexit plan, memo suggests
Photo: AFP

The handwritten notes were carried by an aide to the Conservative vice-chair Mark Field after a meeting at the Department for Exiting the European Union.

But unluckily for the careless aide and the embarrassed UK government they were photographed by an eagle-eyed snapper.

The stand-out note that has made the headlines in the UK was: “What’s the model: Have your cake and eat it,” a phrase famously used by UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson when suggesting Britain could remain a member of the single market without having to accept freedom of movement.

The British government has however denied that the note represents its official position.

However other notes caught on camera made headlines in France, one of which read “French likely to be most difficult”.

This suggests those in the Department for Exiting the European Union are worried that the French will be the biggest obstacle to Britain getting the kind of deal it wants, in other words staying in the single market.

The note suggested any chance of a free trade deal with EU partners will stumble on the services industry because the French were hoping to take advantage of Britain's exit.

The note says: “Manufacturing relatively straightforward; services harder because French hoping for business.”

Another handwritten comment appeared to make reference to the negotiating team that Britain will face in Brussels. The document read: “Very French. Need fair process guaranteed.”

In August the EU appointed Frenchman Michel Barnier as the man in charge of Brexit negotiations. The appointment was dubbed an “act of war” by the pro-Brexit press in Britain as Barnier is a veteran of tussles with the City of London.

The French government has repeatedly suggested the British can not just pick and choose the best bits about being in the EU when negotiating Brexit.

In October French President Francois Hollande sent one of the strongest warnings yet that Britain will have to pay a heavy price for leaving the European Union.

He called for “firmness” by the EU powers in Brexit negotiations to avoid the risk that other countries might seek to follow Britain's lead and leave the bloc.

The comments added to jitters on financial markets, where the pound suffered its biggest drop since Britain voted in a June referendum to leave the EU.

“There must be a threat, there must be a risk, there must be a price, otherwise we will be in negotiations that will not end well and, inevitably, will have economic and human consequences,” he said in a speech Thursday evening.

“Britain has decided on a Brexit, I believe even a hard Brexit. Well, we must go all the way with Britain's will to leave the European Union.

“We have to have this firmness” otherwise “the principles of the European Union will be questioned” and “other countries or other parties will be minded to leave the European Union in order to have the supposed benefits and no downsides or rules.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

A week after chaotic scenes and 6-hour queues at the port of Dover, the British motoring organisation the AA has issued an amber traffic warning, and says it expects cross-Channel ports to be very busy once again this weekend as holidaymakers head to France.

Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

The AA issued the amber warning on Thursday for the whole of the UK, the first time that it has issued this type of warning in advance.

Roads across the UK are predicted to be extremely busy due to a combination of holiday getaways, several large sporting events and a rail strike – but the organisation said that it expected traffic to once again be very heavy around the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone.

Last weekend there was gridlock in southern England and passengers heading to France enduring waits of more than six hours at Dover, and four hours at Folkestone.

The AA said that while it doesn’t expect quite this level of chaos to be repeated, congestion was still expected around Dover and Folkestone.

On Thursday ferry operator DFDS was advising passengers to allow two hours to get through check-in and border controls, while at Folkestone, the Channel Tunnel operators only said there was a “slightly longer than usual” wait for border controls.

In both cases, passengers who miss their booked train or ferry while in the queue will be accommodated on the next available crossing with no extra charge.

Last weekend was the big holiday ‘getaway’ weekend as schools broke up, and a technical fault meant that some of the French border control team were an hour late to work, adding to the chaos. 

But the underlying problems remain – including extra checks needed in the aftermath of Brexit, limited space for French passport control officers at Dover and long lorry queues on the motorway heading to Folkestone.

OPINION UK-France travel crisis will only be solved when the British get real about Brexit

The port of Dover expects 140,000 passengers, 45,000 cars and 18,000 freight vehicles between Thursday and Sunday, and queues were already starting to build on Thursday morning.