France’s Brexit jibe at UK: ‘Not first time commitment not kept’

Emmanuel Macron portrait smashed by protestors in Poitiers

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The UK left the EU last year, ending its 47-year-membership of the European trading bloc. Both parties struck a free trade agreement before New Year after months of torturous negotiations. Since January the government has continued talks with Brussels over a number of key economic issues, including fishing quotas and trade between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Current French President Emmanuel Macron has been outspoken on what he sees as Britain’s reluctance to stick to the agreement struck in December.

Ahead of this year’s G7 summit in the UK he told a press conference: “Nothing is renegotiable, everything must be applied.”

Mr Macron’s vocal digs at the UK since Brexit have also touched on the pandemic, with the French President declaring earlier this year that the British-developed AstraZeneca vaccine was “quasi-ineffective for over-65s.”

However, Mr Macron’s hostile rhetoric against the UK is nothing new, as an interview about Brexit with his predecessor, Francois Hollande reveals.

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Mr Hollande, who left office in 2017, was interviewed for the 2019 BBC documentary, “Inside Europe: 10 Years of Turmoil.”

The former French president recalled the moment he was invited by Britain’s David Cameron to a crunch meeting at Chequers to discuss the then-prime minister’s proposals for an in/out referendum on EU membership.

Mr Hollande said: “I told him nothing obliged him to hold the referendum when he did.

“This would not be the first time that a commitment made at an election had not been kept afterwards.

“But he wanted to show he could negotiate successfully with Europeans.”

The referendum was eventually held in June 2016 and saw Britain vote to leave the EU by a majority of 52 percent.

Ahead of the public vote Mr Cameron demanded several concessions from the EU as he sought to renegotiate the UK’s membership of the bloc.

One of the then-prime minister’s major proposals was a so-called “emergency brake” to limit the number of migrants allowed to claim benefits in the UK.

The idea, which was ultimately rejected by the EU, was a bid by Mr Cameron to tackle the growing anti-EU sentiment among his own Conservative Party and the wider UK.

Mr Hollande refused to budge on the EU’s principle of freedom of movement during his meeting with Mr Cameron.

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The former president claimed he told the Mr Cameron that if the UK was granted the emergency brake then other member states would possibly want to follow suit.

He said: “Any concessions made to the UK on freedom of movement in the EU would be easily requested by any other member state.

“I said to him, honestly, if he got a special deal for the UK – because there was a fear he might lose the referendum – then other countries under populist pressure would try to organise their own referendum and get their own special deal.”

Mr Cameron was later reported to have cited the EU’s failure to grant the emergency brake as a major reason behind Britain voting to leave the bloc.

He had been expected to unveil the proposal during a key speech on immigration but was forced into dropping it just before he was due to speak, drawing an angry response from eurosceptic Tories.

According to Peter Ricketts, Mr Cameron’s former national security adviser, the Mr Cameron felt under pressure to deliver on immigration ahead of the Brexit vote.

He told the BBC documentary: “David Cameron is clear that the thing that will really count in the referendum is freedom of movement.

“He makes the pitch to Hollande, given the enormous flow of people from the EU into Britain.

“He’s got to have something to show that we’ve got some control over that movement.”
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