Hollande says no trade deal before Brexit as May pens letter to France

The outgoing French president François Hollande has followed German Chancellor Angela Merkel in ruling out the prospect of a trade deal with the UK before the terms of Brexit are sorted. It comes as Theresa May attempted to win over the French and other Europeans by writing to them directly.

Hollande says no trade deal before Brexit as May pens letter to France
Photo: AFP

Hollande has joined forces with Angela Merkel by rejecting UK Prime Minister Theresa May's request that Brexit talks can run parallel to negotiations over a future trade deal.

“First we must begin discussions on the modalities of the withdrawal, especially on the rights of citizens and the obligations arising from the commitments that the United Kingdom has made,” Hollande said.

“On the basis of what progress is made, we could open discussions on the framework of the future relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union,” he added.

Shortly after May had triggered Article 50 on Wednesday signalling the start of the EU divorce proceedings Merkel fired a warning saying the UK must first “disentangle” itself from Europe before looking towards the future relationship.

It suggested a rocky road lies ahead during the two years years of fraught negotiations that will soon begin in earnest.

France's stance towards Brexit could of course change when it elects a new president in May. The far-right candidate Marine Le Pen also aims to take France out of the EU if she cannot secure a return of significant powers and sovereignty from Brussels.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that he did not want to punish the British people for leaving the EU, but his concern was to protect the interests of the EU.

On Thursday Theresa May penned an open letter to the French people and the citizens of other European countries in a bid to ease their worries about Britain's stance towards Europe.

The letter was published in the Le Parisien newspaper and attempted to reassure the French that Britain does not want to harm France or any other country in the EU by leaving the bloc.

“Our referendum was, in our view, a vote to re-establish our national self-determination. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe—and we want to remain partners and strong allies of France and of all our friends on the Continent,” May wrote.

“In fact, in the beginning of this month, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were warmly welcomed in Paris, where they launched a new campaign — the Neighbours — aimed specifically at celebrating the longstanding friendship between our two nations.

“As our closest friend and neighbour, we hope after our departure to establish a close and special relationship with all the countries in the European Union. This unique partnership must be translated into co-operation on economic issues and on security, because that is in the best interest of Britain, France, the EU and the entire world.”

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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.