‘UK cannot have free trade if it bars access to EU citizens’

French minister warns against post-Brexit ‘à la carte union’ during Charlie Flanagan visit

France’s minister for foreign affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan in Paris on Thursday

France’s minister for foreign affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan in Paris on Thursday


Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan and his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, struggled to square strict adherence to the EU’s “four freedoms” with Ireland’s “specificity” in Brexit negotiations.

Asked what sort of border the UK will have with the EU’s single market, Mr Ayrault quoted the prime minister of Luxembourg, saying Britain “could not have its cake and eat it too”.

Britain will not be allowed to have an “à la carte” Europe, the French minister said repeatedly.

“Four freedoms are the basis of the EU: Free circulation of goods, capital, services and persons.”

Mr Ayrault repeated the word “persons” – to stress that the UK cannot enjoy free trade if it bars access to EU citizens.

“There cannot be an à la carte union, where each takes what suits him,” Mr Ayrault continued. “These basic principles . . . must be preserved at all cost.”

Referring to Ireland, Mr Ayrault said the EU will “take account of concrete situations.” But “without going back on the principles.”

Frustration at vagueness

Mr Ayrault’s comments could apply to the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, officials said, while stressing he was conscious of the Irish situation and that Britain has not yet made its wishes known.

“Perhaps there is no member state who has more at stake than Ireland (in Brexit negotiations),” Mr Flanagan said.

He and Mr Ayrault “discussed in detail the unique challenges for Ireland in terms of the Northern Ireland peace process, the internationally legally binding and recognised Good Friday agreement of 1998, the border as it currently exists between north and south, the common travel area between Ireland and the UK which was established on the independence of Ireland in 1922 . . . ”

Both ministers expressed impatience and frustration at vagueness on the part of the British government.

“Lost time creates uncertainty that is harmful to all,” Mr Ayrault said. “What is the point of dragging it out? We want negotiations to start as soon as possible.”

Until now, Mr Ayrault said “There has not been enough clarity . . . On the EU side, the position is clear. It’s less clear on the British side. That’s why they must clarify it as soon as possible.”


“It’s important now that we move towards clarity, that we know precisely what the British ask is going to be, what the British plan is,” Mr Flanagan said.

On July 14, Mr Ayrault created a minor diplomatic incident by saying the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson “lied a lot to the British during the (Brexit) campaign.”

Asked whether he was satisfied with Mr Johnson’s handling of Brexit negotiations, Mr Ayrault said “I can say a lot of good things about Charles (Flanagan), but I don’t want to criticise the British minister, even if we have excellent relations with Ireland.”

Le Monde newspaper reported last week that “while contradictory British demands and the vagueness of their Brexit plan are exasperating Europeans more and more, anger focuses on the head of the Foreign Office, with his provocative jokes, amateurism and crude language.”