Britain will receive a hefty bill for leaving the European Union - whether it likes it or not - and faces a historic and "heavy responsibility” not to use Brexit as a pretext to unravel the European Union, a leading French politician has warned.
Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former conservative French prime minister, issued the stern warnings while on a visit to London at the head of French Senate delegation to meet ministers, investigateBrexit and promote the "re-founding of Europe”.
"Opening the discussions with the UK by the European side asking for a cheque up front might not look very favourable, but that’s what might happen,” said Mr Raffarin, referring to the 60bn euro severance payment that the EU is expected to demand from the UK.
Mr Raffarin echoed the uncompromising line of the French government which is leading calls in Europe for Britain to receive a tough deal from Brussels in order to convince other recalcitrant EU member states, like Poland and Hungary, of the benefits of membership.
From a European point of view the new agreements cannot be better than the old onesJean-Pierre Raffarin
Denying this amounted to "punishment” for Britain, Mr Raffarin said that nonetheless Europe would need its share of "victories” over Britain in the coming negotiations.
"That means from a European point of view that the new agreements cannot be better than the old ones - which might be difficult for the United Kingdom side to accept - while at the same time protecting the EU’s joint interests, notably on security and defence,” he said.
British officials close to the Brexit negotiations say they are already accepting that France will be the toughest opponent.
"Whatever happens, there is no doubt we'll be on the wrong side of the argument from the French," said one senior Whitehall official.
British hopes that it could divide Europe in the negotiations was doomed to failure, Mr Raffarin added, particularly since the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House.
Whatever happens, there is no doubt we'll be on the wrong side of the argument from the French
Mr Raffarin accused Mr Trump of making Brexit a "hostage” in order "shape his future vision of Europe” and further his anti-EU geopolitical agenda that envisages a rapprochement with Russia to check China’s economic rise.
The new president’s anti-EU rhetoric had already fostered closer unity between France and Germany, he added, predicting that the combination of Mr Trump and Brexit would give EU leaders no choice but to drive a hard bargain.
British attempts to curry favour in Washington would backfire in the talks, he added, deepening Europe's core Franco-German union which has been under increasing strain in recent years.
"So the meeting between Trump and May is a major political fact. He put Brexit on the future landscape and in a way it is seen as the temptation of the American President to use Brexit to shape his future vision of Europe.”
He concluded by warning that Brexit must not be used as a pretext for the deconstruction of Europe and that Britain would bear "a very, very heavy responsibility” if that was to happen.
The same reasons that drove the British people to want to leave [the EU] will drive the European public to defend their own strategic entity
"We are in a high-risk period, high-risk in our own democracies...but the same reasons that drove the British people to want to leave [the EU] will drive the European public to defend their own strategic entity.
"I think that the French public, like the German public, will ask Europe in 2019, ‘what have you done for France? What have you done for Germany? And what have you done for United Kingdom’. And Europe will have to be able to reply, ‘for France, for Germany we have done a lot’.”
British hopes, therefore, that it could negotiate a pragmatic, technical deal based on trade and economy issues would not work because London failed to appreciate the emotion and politics stirred by Brexit.
"This won’t be sufficient, because the meeting in 2019 is not an economic meeting point, but a political meeting point,” he said.