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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

UK and French leaders agree security deal, disagree on Brexit

French President Emmanuel Macron said the UK cannot keep coveted access to the EU for its financial sector unless it abides by the bloc's rules

France's President Emmanuel Macron said the UK cannot keep its coveted financial sector access to the European Union after Brexit unless it continues to play by the bloc's rules, but the leaders also pledged closer cooperation on defence, security and borders. Peter Nicholls/ AP
France's President Emmanuel Macron said the UK cannot keep its coveted financial sector access to the European Union after Brexit unless it continues to play by the bloc's rules, but the leaders also pledged closer cooperation on defence, security and borders. Peter Nicholls/ AP

The leaders of Britain and France met on Thursday against a military backdrop to pledge closer cooperation on defence, security and borders after Britain leaves the European Union.

But President Emmanuel Macron also delivered a firm message: the UK cannot keep coveted access to the EU for its financial sector after Brexit unless it continues to play by the bloc's rules once it leaves.

"The choice is on the British side, not on my side," Macron said at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

"If you want access to the single market — including the financial services —- be my guest," he said. "But it means that you need to contribute to the budget and acknowledge European jurisdiction."

The future of Britain's financial sector — which employs more than 1 million people — is a key issue as Britain and the EU hammer out details of their relationship after Brexit. EU officials warn the UK it can't hang on to the benefits of membership without accepting its responsibilities, including free movement of people.

Mrs May said Britain would be leaving the single market, but wanted a free-trade deal with the bloc covering both goods and services.

She said London "will continue to be a major global financial centre" after Brexit.

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The visit, Mr Macron's first to Britain since he won the French presidency in May 2017, was aimed at strengthening security and intelligence ties between nations that are both neighbours and historic rivals, and building goodwill as Britain negotiates its exit from the EU.

The venue — the Sandhurst military academy southwest of London — was selected as a signal that the relationship between western Europe's two biggest military powers won't be weakened once the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

Mrs May treated the French leader to a pub lunch of crab and duck breast, followed by a serving of British military pomp. Mr Macron was greeted at Sandhurst troops from the Coldstream Guards in grey coats and bearskin hats.

Amid a sudden hailstorm, Mr Macron and Mrs May inspected the honour guard before taking a salute from soldiers on horseback.

Senior ministers from the two countries attended the one-day meeting, and signed agreements on everything from space exploration to tackling online extremism.

In a significant gesture, Mrs May offered millions to ease French annoyance over a 2003 deal that placed British border controls in the northern French port of Calais. The town has become a magnet for migrants hoping to reach Britain, and the accord puts the burden of blocking their entry to the UK on France.

Alongside a new treaty aimed at better management of their joint border, Britain agreed to pay £44.5 million (Dh227m) for fences, security cameras and other measures in Calais and nearby English Channel ports. France also wants Britain to take in more migrants from Calais, especially unaccompanied children.

Mrs May pointedly declined to give a number of migrants that Britain would take when asked by journalists at a joint press conference. Instead she stressed the need to clamp down on people smugglers and take other measures to stop migrants from getting to Calais.

Mr Macron said the treaty would mean "smarter and more efficient management of the border" and a faster, more humane processing system for migrants.

The UK also said it will send three Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters and dozens of personnel to join France's military mission against Islamic militants in Africa's Sahel region. France has led efforts to fight Al Qaeda and ISIL-linked extremist groups in the vast region south of the Sahara desert.

The leaders of the five main UK and French spy agencies also met for the first time, as the two countries seek to increase intelligence-sharing. France and Britain have both faced a string of violent attacks by extremists inspired or directed by ISIL.

In a boost to Mr Macron, Britain is throwing its backing behind the European Intervention Initiative, a multinational European military force that the French president has proposed. He also wants a common European defence budget and security doctrine.

In return, France will send troops to join a UK-led NATO battle group in Estonia in 2019, aimed at countering an increasingly assertive Russia.

Mr Macron also came with the news that France will loan Britain the Bayeux Tapestry, an 11th-century panorama depicting the Norman conquest of England. It will go on display at an unspecified British venue in 2022.

Mr Macron said that despite Brexit, "we are facing common challenges and sharing the same destiny."

"We are somehow making a new tapestry together," he said.