Le Pen Dismisses Hollande’s Brexit Warning, Sees U.K. Gains

  • France’s National Front leader says EU needs U.K. trade
  • Hollande promises to be tough as U.K. prepares Brexit talks

French National Front leader Marine Le Pen dismissed President Francois Hollande’s hardening stance over Britain’s departure from the European Union, saying the rest of the bloc will pave the way for smooth trade relations.

“There are threats and blackmail but the EU has no interest in breaking commercial relations with the U.K.,” Le Pen said in an interview during a visit to a farm in central France Friday. “There is strong talk but there are negotiations that will benefit Britain. They are already benefiting because they are able take strategic decisions we can’t because of dictates from the EU."

The remarks underline the domestic political pressure on Hollande and other leaders across Europe as they prepare to open formal talks with the U.K. by April. Le Pen, whose party is pushing for France to exit from the euro and the EU, has consistently polled as the front-runner going into the country’s 2017 presidential election.

Hollande said late Thursday the U.K. will have to pay the price for opting for a hard Brexit, whereby it refuses to permit free movement of people from the EU and loses access to key parts of the single market, and that the EU has to prepare to defend its interests in negotiations.

U.K. Choice

“There has to be a threat, there has to be risk, there has to be a price to pay, or else we will be in a negotiation that won’t end well, and that will necessarily have economic and human consequences,” Hollande said in a speech at the Jacques Delors Institute in Paris. “The U.K. has decided to go for a Brexit, a hard Brexit I believe. Well, we’ll have to go all the way. The U.K.’s choice is to exit the EU.”

The pound fell to a 31-year low this week as U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May signaled her government sees controlling immigration from the EU as a bigger priority than maintaining trade links. 

Le Pen’s comments echo Brexit backers in Britain, who say the EU won’t put up trade barriers because it sells far more to the U.K. than vice versa. In August, the gap hit a record 8.4 billion pounds ($10.5 billion,) U.K. government figures published Friday showed.

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