UK free movement deal possible, hints French presidential favourite

Eiffel Tower

Alain Juppé, the frontrunner in next year’s French presidential elections, is to visit London and has suggested a deal may be possible on free movement of workers that will allow the UK access to the single market.

Brexit explained: article 50

Juppé is quoted in the Financial Times as saying the issue is up for negotiation. The politician from the mainstream French right will visit London on Monday and is certain to be pressed to give a fuller explanation about how much flexibility of movement he envisages. His remarks do not tally with the position of either the European commission or the German or French governments.

Juppé is also expected to seek assurances about the status of French citizens living in the UK after the frontrunner for the Tory leadership, Theresa May, said the status of existing EU migrants would be a factor in any negotiations on the terms of a British withdrawal from the EU.

Her remarks were supported by the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, who said it would be absurd to give assurances on the status of EU citizens in the UK before similar assurances came from the EU about UK citizens. Hammond has been a leading UK voice arguing for a trade-off in talks between access to the single market and free movement of EU citizens.

The EU is uneasy about giving the UK any concessions on free movement since it is likely to lead to calls for similar treatment from other nationalist politicians in Europe.

The EU has been refusing any concessions for the Swiss on free movement despite a referendum in 2014 insisting the government impose immigration controls. Switzerland is wary of losing access to the European single market, and may have to hold a second referendum if no deal is offered by the EU.

The Financial Times interview did not provide full quotes on freedom of movement from Juppé, who polls show is likely to be the main candidate from the mainstream French right and is favourite to win the presidency.

However, it quoted him saying everything was “up for negotiation”.

“We need to find ways to cooperate, to find a solution to have the UK in the European market, one way or another – whether that is part of the European Economic Area or something else,” he said.

Juppé also said in the Financial Times that the UK border, currently at Calais under the terms of a non-EU treaty, should be moved back to British soil. Possible border movement was raised during the referendum campaign with figures including Juppé, the economics minister, Emanuel Macron, and French regional politicians all calling for Britain to take it back.

He said the bilateral Le Touquet accord that allows French customs officials to work on British soil and vice versa should be renegotiated. “The logic requires that border controls should take place on British soil,” he said.

The Calais refugee and migrant camp that has grown up in the past two years as thousands of migrants seek to avoid border controls there and reach Britain illegally through the Channel tunnel is controversial on both sides of the Channel.

Calais business leaders claim it has detroyed tourism, and undermined relations between northern France and south-east England.

Some senior French figures are still hoping that the UK will rethink Brexit, but others believe it is vital to deal with the uncertainty and the UK must be forced out as quickly as possible.

Sir Peter Ricketts, the former UK ambassador to France, told a conference in Aix, dubbed the Davos of Provence, that: “Brexit is the revenge of the losers from globalisation, and rejection of elites in London or Brussels offering uniform solutions … It is necessary that the parliamentary political class begins to explain why Europe is necessary.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 4th July 2016 11.20 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010