French Europe minister still hopes UK will return to EU

PARIS — French Europe Minister Clément Beaune stands by his tough rhetoric on Brexit, but hopes the U.K. will come back to the EU.

Since the EU and U.K. finalized a Brexit trade deal at the 11th hour on Christmas Eve, Beaune has not minced his words about what he has described as “lies” and U-turns by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brexiteers. His rhetoric even reportedly ruffled feathers in Johnson’s office.

“I think we need to say what we think; I continue to think that Brexit is a bad thing, it’s a personal and political opinion, it will be a bad thing for the U.K., it’s not good news for the EU,” Beaune told POLITICO in an interview on Friday.

But he said he hasn’t forgotten those in the U.K. who disagree with Brexit. He added that Britons sent letters to the French embassy and to him, sharing their sadness over the Brexit decision.

“I know it wasn’t a happy day for them or for me, I don’t forget that in some areas, like Scotland, Brexit is still a difficult moment,” Beaune said.

“I don’t forget that there are veterans and youths who were hoping for a future within the EU and hope to rebuild it another way or return one day. I hope the U.K. will return to the EU one day, to be honest.”

But he quickly added that France respects the sovereign choice of the British people, and Paris and Brussels showed that through the amount of time and energy that was dedicated to reaching a deal and a framework for a post-Brexit relationship.  

“We were friendly since we sought to negotiate, we never slammed the door shut, or knocked over the tables. We were demanding but we didn’t have a warring or aggressive attitude.”

However, he said that even though a deal has been agreed, there’s still much to do to ensure a smooth EU-U.K. relationship going forward.

“There are a lot of implementation and follow-up issues to figure out … It would be desirable to have a European task force with the same cross-functionality [as EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s team had] dedicated to following up on this deal,” Beaune said, citing fishing licenses, cross-border health care protocols and the level playing field as areas where “follow-up” is needed.

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