French presidential favourite Emmanuel Macron insists cross-Channel border controls will not move back to Kent post-Brexit
PUBLISHED: 17:35 21 February 2017 | UPDATED: 17:35 21 February 2017
He suggested last year that if the UK voted for Brexit, Paris could tear up a crucial agreement which permits British border officials to operate on French soil
The front-runner in the race for the French presidential election has indicated he is ready to allow Britain to keep border controls - and unwanted migrants - on the other side of the Channel after Brexit.
Emmanuel Macron suggested last year that if the UK voted for Brexit, Paris could tear up a crucial agreement which permits British border officials to operate on French soil, saying: “The day this relationship unravels, migrants will no longer be in Calais.”
But in talks with Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street, the former French economy minister said he was willing to work to “improve” the deal, signed in Le Touquet in 2003.
In less welcome news for Mrs May, Mr Macron voiced his determination to attract talented workers including bankers and academics to move from the UK to France in the wake of Brexit, and said he hoped to persuade his fellow countrymen - thousands of whom work in London’s financial services sector - to look for opportunities at home.
Standing outside the door of Number 10, he said: “I will have a series of initiatives to get talented people in research and lots of fields working here to come to France ... I want banks, talents, researchers, academics and so on.
“I think that France and the European Union are a very attractive space now so in my programme I will do everything I can to make it attractive and successful.”
Mr Macron requested the meeting with Mrs May during a visit to rally support from French ex-pats in London behind his campaign for this spring’s election to choose a successor to Francois Hollande.
Speaking in English, he said he had assured her of his intention to seek a “fair” Brexit, which will “protect and defend French and European interests”.
But he added: “At the same time, I reaffirmed my willingness first to have a fair execution of the Le Touquet agreement and to see what we can improve - because we have to improve some issues - and to pursue a further co-operation in terms of defence.”
Around 200,000 French voters are believed to be resident in London, making it the sixth-largest centre of population taking part in the presidential election, conducted over two rounds in April and May.
Mrs May has repeatedly said she wants an early agreement on the status of EU nationals currently living in the UK but has declined to guarantee that they will retain their rights to live and work in the country after Brexit.
Asked whether he was concerned about the post-Brexit position of French citizens based in the UK, Mr Macron said: “Sure, and I think as part of the Brexit execution, I will be be very careful about the need for our people to be allowed to stay here and work in good conditions.”
But he added: “I want to convince them that France is changing, I want to promote my country and make it succeed in the 21st century and [tell them] that now, in the coming years, they will have a lot of opportunities to come back to France and succeed in France.”
Speaking shortly after it emerged that French authorities had held talks with UK universities, including Oxford and Warwick, on the possibility of setting up a post-Brexit campus in Paris, Mr Macron said: “I was very happy to see that some academics and researchers in the UK, because of Brexit, are considering coming to France to work.
“It will be part of my programme to be attractive for these talented people.”
Mr Macron - a former socialist, who last year established the En Marche movement to fight the presidential election as an independent - accused his main rival Marine Le Pen of the National Front of trying to “push France into the 19th century” and said her plan to take the country out of the EU would “kill” the economy and harm middle-class interests.
South east MEPs Nigel Farage and Janice Atkinson criticised Mrs May for not holding a similar meeting with Mme Le Pen, after a spokesman confirmed there was a long-standing Government policy not to engage with the National Front.
Ms Atkinson has previously offered to facilitate a meeting between the prime minister and Mme Le Pen and insisted Kent would be a safer place were the far-right leader to win power in the spring.