PM statement in Paris: 21 July 2016

At a press conference with President Hollande of France, Prime Minister Theresa May spoke about strengthening the UK-France relationship.

Prime Minister

President Hollande, thank you for inviting me to Paris.

I am delighted to have this opportunity, so soon after taking office, to underline my commitment to the profound friendship between our countries and our peoples; a friendship that I believe has never been more important than it is today.

A week ago, France suffered another horrific terrorist attack and on behalf of all the British people, I offer our heartfelt condolences to all the loved ones of those who were so callously killed and injured in Nice, including a small number of British casualties.

These were innocent victims, murdered by terrorists who want to destroy our democracy and our way of life. As the President and I have discussed today, we must never let them win.

Last year, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, we stood together and said to the world that we will not let these extremists divide us.

In November after the devastating attacks in Paris, British fighter pilots joined their French counterparts to attack and destroy Daesh in Syria.

Now, in the aftermath of another attack, it is Britain who will stand with you shoulder to shoulder as your great ally and friend.

The intelligence and security co-operation between our countries is something that will always endure – even after Britain has left the European Union.

As I have said Brexit means Brexit and I firmly believe we will make a success of it, not just for the UK but for our European partners too.

We will continue to work together to keep our people safe and to stand up for our values around the world. We did so long before the European Union existed and we will continue to do so long after the UK has left.

That means, in addition to our growing co-operation on counter-terrorism, we will strengthen the wider strategic defence partnership between our 2 countries.

Britain brings a great deal to the table.

We will continue to meet our NATO obligation to spend 2% of our GDP on defence and to keep our promise to spend 0.7% of our national income on aid.

This week, as you have said Mr President, I made it my first act as Prime Minister in Parliament to secure the future of our nuclear deterrent.

Together with France, we are also working on the next generation of military equipment – including a 2 billion euro project to develop the most advanced combat air system anywhere in Europe.

Turning to our discussions on trade and economic co-operation, I have said to President Hollande that I want Britain to continue to work with our European partners to boost trade and economic growth in both our countries.

Last year the value of our bilateral trade reached 50 billion euros.

We are one another’s fifth largest export markets. Today French companies employ 360,000 people across the UK and we are the fourth largest investor in France.

This matters for both of us, so as the UK leaves the EU we will have to determine how to maintain the closest possible economic relationship between our countries.

And it will take time to prepare for those negotiations.

I understand the need for certainty and confidence in the markets and that is why I have already been clear that the UK will not invoke Article 50 until before the end of this year.

I hope that we can all make the most of the next 6 months to prepare for these discussions in a constructive way so that we maximise the opportunities for both the UK and the EU.

In the meantime, I want to reiterate that Britain remains open for business, that French citizens and their EU counterparts can continue to work in Britain – and they are very welcome in the UK.

To conclude, as I have said before, Britain is leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe and we are not walking away from our friendship with France, or any of our other European partners.

Britain and France are 2 allies that stand together looking out to the world, fighting for the values we share. As I said in my first speech as Prime Minister in the British Parliament this week: we share a firm belief in the values of liberté, égalité and fraternité. And together we will always defend them.

François Hollande

Madam Prime Minister, I’m welcoming you here for the first time to Paris, and it’s at really a very dramatic moment, because a few days ago, on the Promenade des Anglais, there was this horrific terrorist attack, with many killed, dozens of wounded, families who are grieving with sorrow. And I’d like to thank you for the message of solidarity that you addressed to me on the very next day after this atrocious crime.

Once again, France and the United Kingdom have demonstrated their unity faced with this terrible act. It’s a lesson of history because during the course of the 20th century the UK has always been at France’s side, and France at the side of the UK, to face major dangers.

A few weeks ago, I was with David Cameron for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, and during the course of that terrible battle, hundreds of thousands of British soldiers died for our freedom. That’s what unites France and the United Kingdom, and so many other things.

During the course of these many decades, indeed centuries, there has been between our 2 countries a relationship that has become an entente and a strong friendship, as testified by the hundreds of thousands of French people who live in the UK, who work there, as there are indeed many Britons living in France, not just during this holiday period as tourists, but who have decided to reside here. And these ties will never be broken, will never be loosened.

And there’s also what our 2 countries have in common in the face of the challenges of the world: France and the UK are members of the UN Security Council, and act together, act jointly, in the fight against Boko Haram. We’re also active together in the Middle East, in the Levant, in Syria, and in Iraq. And so we have the same duty, which is to ensure not just our own security, but the security of Europe, and also, to uphold values on a global scale.

There’s also defence co-operation that has been strengthened these past few years, and which covers what’s essential; that is, the nuclear deterrent. A few days ago, a debate took place in the House of Commons that once again confirmed the UK commitment for the nuclear deterrent, which will lead to further new relations between our 2 countries. And a lot of trade between our 2 countries on the economic front, strengthened economic ties in many areas, be it aerospace, energy or telecoms. In many technological areas, we’ve managed to act together.

And then there’s also the question of immigration control where, a few weeks ago, we wanted to give concrete manifestation to our commitments through an agreement that was signed in 2010, the Touquet agreement, that both France and UK have applied fully and have indeed reinforced. And you yourself made it possible to have additional financial contributions over and above what was planned, and we’re doing our utmost so that there can be humanity and treatment with dignity of these people who seek to go to the UK and cannot access it because they’re not recognised with asylum status, asylum that can be granted in France, which has allowed a number of difficult situations to be dealt with honourably.

And also, there are UK commitments that have been respected that we will be strengthening as regards minors, and what was promised is now fully operational, notably so that isolated minors who have families in the UK can be received.

That’s what we’re doing together, and we’ll continue to work together, but the UK has taken a decision through the referendum – the United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union. That is its decision, its responsibility, and we respect that decision. We would like it to be reflected in the best possible timescale, to open a negotiation, to establish what will be the relationship between the UK and Europe for France. The sooner the better in the common interest. There cannot be discussions or pre-negotiations before the negotiation, but we can of course prepare this negotiation, and we can understand that your government that has just been formed needs this time.

But let me repeat: the sooner the better, in the common interest, in the interest of Europe, because France has this responsibility, and in the interest of the UK and also in the interest of our respective economies. Because uncertainty is the greatest danger. Because the UK will leave the EU, but the conditions under which the UK will leave the EU and, above all, the relationship that will be maintained between the European Union and the UK – there can be risks for the stability of the European economy, and therefore for jobs, and we are very much attached to that and very vigilant. That’s why I want us to have this discussion, and thank you very much for coming here to Paris.

Let me remind you: in the fight against terrorism, France and the UK have a high degree of co-operation, and we’ve managed jointly to exchange information in the past that has been extremely useful, and we will continue to do that. This is what is part of the bilateral relationship, the friendship between France and the UK, and what will be the relationship between the UK and the EU. And it’s in the coming weeks that the negotiation will begin.


Mr President, did you mention a deadline, a cut-off date to notify Article 50? And what will happen to the thousands of French people who reside in London or the UK?

President Hollande

A question for you.

Prime Minister

Well, I think you’ve just heard my speech. I think it is sensible for us to ensure that the negotiations for Britain leaving the European Union are done in as calm and orderly and constructive a manner as possible. And I think that does require some preparation to be made and that’s why I’ve said consistently that we wouldn’t be invoking Article 50 before the end of the year. As regards those French citizens who are living in the United Kingdom, while we are full members of the European Union of course there is no change to the position of people living in the UK or indeed British citizens living in France or in other EU member states. In the future I want to be able to guarantee the rights of those people, EU citizens, living in the UK and I would expect to be able to do so. And the only situation in which that wouldn’t be possible would be if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not being protected.

President Hollande

Article 50 can only be invoked at the request of a country and in this instance the UK. So it’s a discussion between us, between the 27 and the UK and it’s a mutual understanding that might lead to triggering this process to our mind as soon as possible. But we must mutually convince ourselves that it’s in the interests of Europe and the interests of our respective countries for this negotiation to open with a basis that must be prepared by the British government. And I fully agree with that.

As to the situation of French people living in the UK and Britons living in France, let me say that the UK will remain a member of the EU throughout the full period of negotiation. In that respect nothing will change for our citizens. And it’s after the negotiation that the rules will set – as Theresa May’s indicated there’s no doubt that the French people who reside in the UK will continue to be able to work there and the British people who are in France will also be able to continue to work there and spend as much time as they wish.


President Hollande, you said that it’s the UK’s decision about when to trigger Article 50. Are you happy that Theresa May said she won’t do that until next year? And Prime Minister, yesterday you met with Angela Merkel. Today you’re meeting with François Hollande. Have you found the French President a more awkward customer than the German Chancellor?

Prime Minister

Well, obviously we’ve just talked about the issue of the invocation of Article 50 and the length of time. And I think as the President’s said, we both recognise the importance of preparing for that so that the negotiations can be as orderly and constructive as possible. And we’ve had excellent discussions, very constructive and very open discussions with President Hollande. And I look forward to working with both President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel in the future. And of course I’ve had very good working relations with my French counterparts as Home Secretary, both Manuel Valls when he was the Interior Minister here and Bernard Cazeneuve in more recent times. And we’ve always worked openly and constructively in a way that is to the benefit of both countries. And I think that is the spirit in which we will continue to work together in the future.

President Hollande

On the second part of your question I had very precise information about Theresa May through both Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve who’d told me how much they’d both appreciated the work conducted jointly on very difficult issues that relate to our own security, the fight against terrorism, on controlling migratory flows and how much France and the UK had been able to achieve the necessary compromise to address the most tricky human issues. I knew that we would have a relationship as 2 individuals and 2 countries that would be commensurate with our history and the friendship between us.

On the issue of negotiation, it’s not a matter of engaging in legalese, who can do it, how to proceed. It’s really all about having in mind the interests of our 2 countries and the interests of Europe. It’s true that the UK will no longer be in the EU, but as the Prime Minister indicated the UK will still be in Europe. Geographically there’s no doubt. Politically too, the destiny of Europe will always be of interest to the UK as Europe will always be interested by what the UK can achieve on a global scale. So the opening of the negotiation to my mind must be consistent with our interests and to reduce as far as possible uncertainty, doubts and questions. That is the sense of the French position. It’s not at all to try and say to the British people, ‘You voted, you must draw all the conclusions from that and there must be a penalty applied to you in terms of your vote.’ It’s not up to us to judge. The British people have decided. It decided to leave the EU. Its freedom, its sovereignty, we must draw the conclusions of that in the consequence and respective conclusions of our countries.


Prime Minister, do you think it’s possible to obtain from the EU and from François Hollande both participation in the single market and restricted freedom of movement for your country?

Prime Minister

Well, the message that the British people gave in their vote for the UK to leave the EU also had a very clear message that we should introduce some controls to the movement of individuals from the countries in the European Union into the UK. And obviously looking at that issue will be part of the negotiations. I’m clear that the government should deliver and will deliver on that for the British people, but we also want to get the right deal on the trade in goods and services. And I think this is important economically not just for the United Kingdom, but for other countries within the European Union as well. But obviously, those matters will be matters for the negotiation and the process that we go through in determining the relationship for the UK with the European Union after we’ve left.

President Hollande

It’s the most crucial point, that’s the point that will be the subject of the negotiation. The UK today has access to the single market because it respects the 4 freedoms. If it wishes to remain within the single market, it’s its decision to know how far and how to have to abide by the 4 freedoms. None can be separated from the other. There cannot be freedom of movement of goods, free movement of capital, free movement of services, if there isn’t a free movement of people. With David Cameron, prior to the referendum, there’d been a number of limited opt outs that in no way hindered freedom of movement of people, and it will be a choice facing the UK. Remain in the single market and then assume the free movement that goes with it, or to have another status that will be the subject of negotiation.


Prime Minister, you said during the referendum that the UK agreement governing the UK border controls in Calais could be in jeopardy if the UK voted for Brexit, and the French economy minister made a similar claim. This is a question to you both: was that completely wrong, or is there still any possibility at all that this agreement may be revisited?

Prime Minister

We have discussed the Touquet agreement and President Hollande and indeed Interior Minister Cazeneuve have both been very clear from their point of view that they wish the Le Touquet agreement to stay. I want the Le Touquet agreement to stay. I know there are those who are calling for it to go. There are those within France who are calling for it to go. I believe that it’s an important agreement, we have developed it in recent times, we have been putting more resource into the security around Calais and Coquelles. I’m grateful to the efforts that the French government have made in the increased numbers of police that they have put into Calais, in order to deal with issues around the juxtaposed controls there from the migrant camps. Le Touquet is of benefit, I believe, to both the United Kingdom and France, and I think we are both very clear – Britain now having taken the decision to leave the EU, but we are both very clear the Le Touquet agreement should stay.

President Hollande

The UK has never been in the Schengen area, so it was necessary to have an agreement between the UK and France, notably, to address the issue of these migrants, these refugees, coming to the borders of France and the UK in Calais, and today at Grande Synthe, and as the Prime Minister indicated, this agreement we applied because it’s useful to both our countries, and it allows us to address cases that otherwise would not be addressed, and notably the case of minors. And it also ensures that we can say to migrants that they cannot come to Calais, that there’s no point coming to Calais because they won’t be able to cross, because the UK will not accept them, and the border security must be watertight so that there’s no crossing, at the risk of their lives. It’s in the interests of these people that we wanted to apply this agreement. Let me remind you that it’s another government that did this and we consider it as our duty, Manuel Valls, Bernard Cazeneuve, to apply it, and to apply it in the best spirit and also to improve it.