Britain and the European Union are going to rip each other apart in talks over a future trade deal, the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has predicted, while also holding out hope that UK defence co-operation with Europe will continue.
Speaking at the Munich security forum, he added it would be tough for Britain to achieve its aim of a free trade deal by the end of the year given the differences between the two sides.
Le Drian said: “I think on trade issues and the mechanism for future relations, which we are going to start on, we are going to rip each each other apart.”
He added that on his desk in his office he had massive files showing the issues of contention between the UK and France, including over fishing rights. He said it was normal in negotiations for each side to protect their interests.
Britain formally left the EU two weeks ago but still trades as a full member during the one-year transition period.
The remaining 27 EU states are drawing up their mandate for the talks on the future relationship, and France, determined to bring about greater European Union integration, is likely to be leading calls for a tough stance on issues such as financial services and fishing.
France and several other countries want to be able to keep fishing in British waters, while London wants full autonomy and limited access for European fishermen.
“Let us hope that it is done as quickly as possible even if there are many subjects and that we have substantial points to manage,” said Le Drian. “I have one in particular (...) which is the question of fish”.
Le Drian is former president of the Brittany region, a very important fishing region in France. Nearly 30% of the turnover of French fishermen relies on access to British waters.
Margrethe Vestager, the EU vice-president, also praised the EU for refusing to split in the first round of Brexit talks saying “this had not been due to the lack of temptation”. She said absolute transparency about the commission’s objectives had been critical to retaining that unity, and said the same would happen in the second round of talks.
Le Drian’s remarks were made in the context of his appeal as a former defence minister for continued British co-operation on security and defence issues with Europe after Brexit.
In a sign France is eager to avoid a rupture, he said France and the UK would be meeting soon in the Lancaster House framework, the Anglo-French defence format first sealed in 2010 by David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy.
Sir Mark Sedwill, the UK national security adviser and the sole British speaker at the conference, predicted the UK would continue to co-operate on defence. Pressed on whether the UK would back the Franco-German proposal for a European security council in which the UK participates, Sedwill said the institutional structure was less important than the substance of the defence co-operation.
In earlier preliminary warnings of tough talks ahead, the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told London not to kid itself about EU access for its prized financial services sector.
Barnier firmly rejected a British suggestion that City of London companies could be given broad, permanent access to the EU market.