Hollande joins Merkel in rejecting call for early talks on trade deal

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French President François Hollande has told Theresa May that talks on future trade relations with the EU must come after the negotiation of a divorce deal.

Mr Hollande’s joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a united front against the Prime Minister’s plea for trade and divorce talks to take place simultaneously.

Failure to achieve a trade deal would threaten Mrs May’s goal of completing the negotiations by the expected date of Brexit in March 2019, and could force her to seek a transitional deal lasting several years to prevent a disruptive “cliff-edge” change in trading rules.

In a statement, the Elysée Palace said Mr Hollande spoke by phone with the Prime Minister and told her it was “necessary first to initiate discussions on the arrangements for withdrawal, notably relating to citizens’ rights and the obligations arising from commitments made by the United Kingdom.

“On the basis of progress being achieved on that, we would be able to open discussions on the issue of the future relations between the UK and the EU.”

Downing Street said the Prime Minister spoke on the phone with European Parliament president Antonio Tajani, Ireland’s Enda Kenny, Poland’s Beata Szydlo and Spain’s Mariano Rajoy, as well as Mr Hollande.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman refused to go into details of the call with Mr Hollande but insisted that the UK’s position on the structure of the negotiations remained unchanged.

“We believe that the negotiations should take place in parallel,” the spokesman said. “It does make clear in Article 50 that the future arrangements of the country that is leaving the EU should be part of the framework for the Article 50 process.”

He added that European leaders had said the “tone” of Mrs May’s Article 50 letter “was appreciated and considered to be constructive”. Number 10 said it expected “robust positions” to be adopted.