February 12, 2018 / 6:33 PM / 10 days ago

EU should be firm with Britain but not punish it, French spokesman says

PARIS (Reuters) - Europeans should take a firm line in negotiations over Britain’s exit from the European Union but not seek to punish or humiliate London, the French government’s spokesman said on Monday.

A European Commission document envisaging powers to restrict British access to the single market during the transition period after Brexit if it violates agreed rules caused furore among British conservatives last week.

“It’s never good news, you should never humiliate, you should never punish,” Benjamin Griveaux told reporters from the Anglo-American press association on Monday.

“That’s the worst thing that could happen and I think it would strengthen anti-European sentiment in many countries where we have elections in a year’s time,” he said.

However, Griveaux, who is part of President Emmanuel Macron’s inner circle, repeated the common EU line that Britain should not seek to “cherry-pick” parts of the single markets it likes, like free trade, and dismiss others such as freedom of movement.

“You need to be firm. Cherry-picking over things such as we’ll take this freedom or another, that’s not possible,” he said.

“And I’d like to remind you that if only one country opposes (the final Brexit deal), there will be a rather hard Brexit,” he added.

French officials have repeatedly said that Paris’ main objective in Brexit negotiations was to maintain the unity of the 27 remaining countries and that the only point of contact for British diplomats should be the Commission’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

“There can’t be things that get dealt with totally bilaterally, otherwise it won’t work,” Griveaux said.

Griveaux, who did a brief stint at the finance ministry at the start of Macron’s mandate, said he had been struck by a sense of denial among British bankers during a visit to London last year to attract UK-based bankers to Paris.

“What was striking when I went there last summer is that many top bankers and large institutions thought Brexit would not happen. That some legal way out would be found, that we could discuss article 50,” he said.

“There was a very strong sense of denial among the people I saw, it really struck me,” he added.

Reporting by Michel Rose, Editing by William Maclean

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