In the first hint that European leaders may be willing to discuss changes to the EU’s existing freedom of movement rules as part of a new relationship with the UK, the French finance minister Michel Sapin has said everything will be on the table in the future talks with the UK, including freedom of movement.
His softer line contrasted with the tone emerging from European leaders at the summit, including French president François Hollande who stressed the UK could not expect to have access to the single market if it did not accept freedom of movement.
Speaking to BBC Newsnight, Sapin said: “When we negotiate with a country, a third party, Norway, Switzerland, to take countries that are very close, we discuss all subjects: under what conditions there is freedom of movement of people; freedom of movement of goods; of capital. That is something that is very important for the UK, with all the questions about financial services. So we discuss everything.
He added: “Everything will be on the table because Britain will make proposals, and we will negotiate all these aspects with a desire to come to an agreement. But we’re not there yet, until we have an official decision from the UK.”
But he stressed: “Britain won’t be in the same position as it was beforehand. Things will change. Things have already changed. We return to zero ... a clean slate.”
Although Sapin did not go beyond saying he was willing to discuss these issues, his remarks will be taken up by figures such as Boris Johnson who insist the UK can negotiate greater controls over its borders outside the EU, and yet retain access to the vital EU single market. Johnson’s proposals have been dismissed as unrealistic.
Sapin also said some UK banks or financial services may be transferred to the EU as part of Brexit. He said: “Certain big institutions could be tempted, and we should take them into account, to transfer some of their activities to the territory of the European Union to have free, direct and simple access to the full range of markets and financial operations. We should prepare for this.”
Sapin also attacked the leave campaign and by implication Johnson for being totally unprepared with a post-Brexit plan. He said: “What surprised me is that those who argued for Brexit, and whom the people backed, were prepared for absolutely none of the consequences of this Brexit.
“They suddenly discovered difficulties and problems. We are discovering them with them. But for the UK of course it’s much more serious.
“When you take a position you should analyse all the aspects and all the consequences. Perhaps therefore if the people of Britain had known the consequences they wouldn’t have voted the way they did. But the vote is there and we have to deal with the consequences.”
This article was written by Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 29th June 2016 21.04 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010