AHEAD of his first meeting with Theresa May as Prime Minister, French President Francois Hollande has issued a warning that the Brexit negotiations should not be allowed to “drag on”.
Mr Hollande, who has previously said that withdrawal talks under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty “cannot be delayed or cancelled”, said: “The sooner the negotiations are open the better, and the shorter the better.”
His comments came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Britain should “take a moment” to prepare for withdrawal from the European Union and Mrs May indicated that she was unlikely to start the two-year process before the end of 2016.
Mrs May is travelling to Paris for a working dinner with the President at the Elysee Paris on Thursday evening, when they will discuss Britain’s plans to quit the EU following last month’s referendum.
After talks in Dublin with Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the French president said: “Should the negotiations be shorter? The most important thing is that they should not drag on.
“The sooner the negotiations are open the better, and the shorter the better.”
Mr Hollande said that Brexit was “a decision that was taken by the British people” and it was the British people who “will have to bear the consequences”.
“Europe will try its best to give its best relationship with the UK,” he said. “But there’s a time the politicians have to accept this vote. They have to accept the consequences.”
Responding to his comments, Mrs May’s official spokeswoman said that the Elysee meeting would provide an opportunity for the leaders to “sit down and talk about these issues face to face” and for the PM to set out what her approach will be.
“They have already had a good phone call last week, when she said it was going to take some time to prepare for these negotiations,” said the spokeswoman.
The spokeswoman said that Mrs May would stress that France is “one of our oldest and most important partners, where the depth of our relationship - particularly on security and defence - is very important for both of us”.
She added: “It will be an opportunity to talk about the whole range of important aspects to our bilateral relationship. The PM’s clear message will be the importance we attach to that relationship.
“We don’t think it should be defined by us both being members of the EU. We can have a strong relationship with the UK outside the EU and France inside.”
The working dinner comes a day after Mrs May’s first meeting as PM with German counterpart Mrs Merkel.
At discussions in Berlin, the Chancellor said Britain should “take a moment” over its plans to sever its ties with Brussels but warned against leaving the negotiations “up in the air”.
Mrs May insisted that Germany would “remain a vital partner and a special friend for us” after Brexit.
She added: “All of us will need time to prepare for these negotiations and the United Kingdom will not invoke Article 50 until our objectives are clear.
“That is why I have said already that this will not happen before the end of this year.
“I understand this timescale will not please everyone but I think it is important to provide clarity on that now.”