Macron and Brexit: French president will take a tough line

Le Pen defeat is good news for Britain, but pro-EU Macron is unlikely to give an inch in talks

Outgoing French president Francois Hollande and president-elect Emmanuel Macron at a ceremony marking the 72nd anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany during the second World War, in Paris on Monday. Photograph: Francois Mori/AFP/Getty Images

Theresa May was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Emmanuel Macron on Sunday, offering warm congratulations and praising the "unique partnership" between Britain and France. Macron's victory is good news for Britain, insofar as a victory for Marine Le Pen would have pushed the European Union into a crisis likely to complicate negotiations over Brexit.

The prime minister can be under no illusions about Macron’s approach to Brexit, however, because he has spoken a number of times about the need to take a tough line with Britain.

"I am a hard Brexiter," he told Christine Ockrent in Monocle magazine last March.

Macron, who campaigned on an unapologetically pro-European platform, believes the EU was too accommodating in its negotiations with David Cameron before last year's referendum.


"Britain must understand that our interest in the medium to long term is to have clear rules. So if Britain wants to trade with Europe it has to choose a model, such as the Swiss, Norwegian or Canadian. We have to accept that there are losses. But it's the British who will lose the most. You cannot enjoy rights in Europe if you are not a member – otherwise it will fall apart," he told Ockrent.

Franco-German relationship

Macron’s tough approach suggests he will have no difficulty with the EU’s negotiating guidelines, which rule out any talks about Britain’s future relationship with the EU before sufficient progress is made on the rights of citizens and the divorce bill. The incoming president has promised to restore the Franco-German relationship to the centre of European decision-making, so he will seek to keep Paris and Berlin aligned on Brexit.

Despite British hopes that the German car industry would push Angela Merkel towards an accommodating approach, the German chancellor has taken a hard line on the sequence of negotiations. This reflects the reality that the EU's richest and poorest member states have a common interest in extracting as much money from Britain on its way out.

"The net contributors don't want to pay a single euro more and the net recipients don't want to receive a single euro less," one senior European Commission source said.

Jean Pisani-Ferry, a French economist and EU expert who is one of Macron’s top advisers, said on Monday that the incoming president would not seek to punish Britain and would attempt to maintain co-operation on defence and security.

“We have to keep all that, at the same time we have divergent interest on some aspects of the negotiations, so there will be a tough negotiation and he will be tough,” he told the BBC.

Pisani-Ferry, who co-authored a paper calling for a looser union which could accommodate post-Brexit Britain, said that Macron had no time at all for such an approach.

“He is a very committed pro-European and he is not the kind of man who would implicitly agree with the dismantling of the EU. He is very keen on building more integration. He’s very keen on strengthening the euro zone,” he said.