French President Francois Hollande has called on the European Union not to take things easy with Britain in its bid to leave the bloc so as not to set a bad precedence.
Hollande said on Thursday that EU leaders need to ensure that the UK is made to pay a heavy price for the decision to leave the regional body. He emphasized the importance of a tough stance by the EU in the Brexit negotiations in protecting the integrity of the single market.
“The UK has decided to do a Brexit, I believe even a hard Brexit,” he said. “Well, we must go all the way through the UK’s willingness to leave the EU. We have to have this firmness.”
Hollande said Britain needs to be made to pay a high economic price for leaving the bloc. The French leader, who made reference to how former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had desired to stay in Europe in exchange for a check, added that it was impossible to now allow the U.K. to “leave and pay nothing.”
France’s president was speaking at a dinner organized to mark the 20th anniversary of Notre Europe, a pro-EU group founded by former EU commission head Jacques Delors. Those in attendance at the 150-guest event included Jean-Claude Juncker, current EU commission president, and Michel Barnier, chief EU negotiator in the Brexit discussions.
Hollande appeared to be especially concerned about the negative impact a ‘soft’ Brexit would have on the future of the EU. He feared other countries in the bloc would want to follow similar path as Britain to leave and continue to benefit without obligations.
Speaking at a party conference last weekend, British Prime Minister Theresa May revealed she would seek for full control over immigration. But she did not intend submitting to the European Court of Justice rulings which would significantly hinder the UK’s access to the single market.
May’s speech had contributed to the sterling dropping to a 31-year-low against the U.S. dollar this week. The Independent reported that the British currency dived further following Hollande’s remarks, dropping as low as $1.1841 on Asian markets.
The UK’s home secretary Amber Rudd also recently caused an outcry across the region after revealing a plan requiring companies in the country to list out the names of foreign workers on their payroll.
Hollande was echoing similar sentiments expressed by Angela Merkel hours earlier. The German chancellor, while addressing local business executives on Thursday, promised that she would oppose special concessions for the UK, if such constitute a threat to the single market.
France’s president, who said Europe “has always lived with crises,” recalled when his mentor Delors had to deal with another crisis that was also caused by the UK.
He is currently facing a strong challenge from a resurgent far-right National Front led by Marine Le Pen on the home front. The opposition party has plans for an EU referendum if it gets into power in France.
France was one of the first countries to call for tough Brexit negotiations. It believes that a soft stance would serve to encourage anti-EU parties across the bloc.