The French Finance Minister has broken ranks with European Union (EU) colleagues suggesting a deal could be found whereby the UK can limit free movement of people but retain access to the Single Market.
Michel Sapin (pictured above) is the first senior European politician to contradict the publicly stated position of EU leaders who have to date insisted the UK would have to maintain free movement of EU migrants in order to enjoy the benefits of trade within the Single Market.
Speaking to the BBC’s Newsnight programme, Mr. Sapin said:
“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.”
Mr. Sapin was not saying that everything would be accepted, merely that it would be open for discussion. He explained:
“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.”
Mr. Sapin’s comments — representing a softer tone on the subject of free movement of people than that previously stated by EU leaders such as French President François Hollande — will be viewed positively by the team the British government appoints to negotiate the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Mr. Sapin did state his belief that a Brexit could encourage financial institutions to relocate operations from London to other EU cities such as Paris, adding: “We should prepare for this. Not out of hostility.”
He did, however, say the referendum result has not changed the intention of his government and the energy company in which it holds an 80 per cent stake — EDF — to build the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset, England.
Mr. Sapin summed up the UK’s new relationship with the EU by saying:
“Britain won’t be in the same position as it was beforehand. Things will change. Things have already changed. We return to zero. As we say in France, a clean slate.”
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) June 29, 2016