Last Friday, Prime Minster Theresa May authored an article published in the French newspaper Le Figaro titled We have voted to leave the EU, but not Europe. It was subsequently published on the UK Government website.
The article began with emphasis of the ‘profound friendship’ between the UK and France, and ongoing willingness from both countries to continue ‘close cooperation’ in tackling shared challenges.
Echoing her earlier Brexit speech delivered in January, PM May repeated that the ‘British people voted to leave the EU’ in hope to ‘restore’ parliamentary democracy, not to leave Europe nor reject ‘values we share’. In an effort to promote global Britain, she added that it was a vote to ‘become even more global and internationalist in action and in spirit’.
She reassured her French audience that the UK has no ‘desire to harm the European Union itself’, adding that while Britain and France are allies and ‘reliable partners’, we are also ‘neighbours and friends’, indicating a stronger bond between the two nations. The article spoke of how we have, ‘for generations’, fought ‘side by side’ in the ‘defence of the freedoms that we treasure’. She added, ‘I want you to know that Britain will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with you as a staunch ally and a great friend’.
The Prime Minister delivered a clear statement of the benefits that both nations reap from trade, in an effort to garner support towards a better deal, demonstrating that it is in the interest of both nations to create a good new partnership post-Brexit.
We want to carry on trading with Europe in the most ambitious way possible, for that is in the UK’s interests and in France’s interests too. The UK is France’s 5th largest export market with our bilateral trade last year alone worth in excess of 50 billion euros. UK companies are responsible for an estimated 230,000 jobs in France, and French companies for about 370,000 jobs in the UK.
She told the French people that we have no intention to ‘cherry-pick which bits of membership we desire’ and that we hope to agree on an ‘ambitious new free trade agreement’. If there was any doubt on our stance within the single market, PM May reiterated that we have no intention to retain membership to the single market as we do not subscribe to the ‘four freedoms’ underpinning access to the single market.
‘I am determined that Britain will continue to be a great champion of free trade – and that can only be good for British and French business’, she said, and that we will ‘remain open for business’.
Turning towards more personal freedoms currently enjoyed by the two nations, the Prime Minister said that the UK will ‘remain an open and tolerant country’. ‘French people will always be welcome in Britain’, she said, followed immediately with the hope that British citizens will also be welcomed in France. Raising the issue of EU citizen rights, which has been highly publicised over the past weeks as the House of Commons recently voted against guaranteeing rights of EU citizens, PM May stressed that she wants ‘to guarantee the rights of all EU citizens’:
I also want to guarantee the rights of all EU citizens, including what the French government estimate to be over 300,000 French people who are already living in Britain, and I hope France will do the same for the Brits who have made their lives there. At the recent Informal European Council, the general view was that we should reach an agreement which applied equally to all member states, so I will make securing this reciprocal agreement a priority as soon as the negotiations begin, because this is in everyone’s interests.
While the UK Government remains under pressure to clarify the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, it is clear that although a priority, the Government will not provide rights to EU citizens unless these rights are reciprocated towards British citizens living abroad within the EU.
PM May also made light reference to the upcoming election in France, adding that both the UK and France are facing ‘similar debate’ about the need for ‘economic and social reform’ in order to ‘spread wealth and opportunity more fairly’. She contextualised this issue of inequality as a wider global challenge amongst others (ie security) that we face together. She told the French people that she wants to see ‘global Britain’ as a ‘leading partner in addressing the wider global challenges’ and that we need to ensure that ‘our scientists are able to continue to work together on the research that helps to shape our future’.
She ended the article by stating:
In this period of change for my nation, Britain may be leaving the European Union as an organisation, but we will be stronger than ever as a dependable partner for our friends in France and across Europe, working to enhance the security and prosperity of all our citizens. As I said in my first speech as Prime Minister in the British Parliament: we share a firm belief in the values of liberté, égalité and fraternité. And together with France, a global Britain will always defend them.