Emmanuel Macron has warned that the UK will have to remain in a customs union after Brexit unless European fishermen are given full access to British waters during trade negotiations.
The French president made clear the EU would use the issue of continued access to UK fisheries to exert pressure on Britain during the next phase of the Brexit process.
To avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, Theresa May has agreed that the UK will stay in a customs union after a 21-month transition period if a wider trade deal is not ready to come into force.
In a warning shot fired at May, Macron implied at a press conference that the threat of the UK remaining in the customs union would be used to the EU’s advantage.
He said: “We as 27 have a clear position on fair competition, on fish, on the subject of the EU’s regulatory autonomy, and that forms part of our lines for the future relationship talks, which is a lever, because it is in our mutual interest to have this future relationship.
“I can’t imagine that the desire of Theresa May or her supporters is to remain for the long term in a customs union, but to define a proper future relationship which resolves this problem.”
He added: “It is leverage because it is important as to our future relationship and I do not understand that Mrs May and those who support her very much wanted to stay in the Customs Union, they would rather favour new rules.”
On Sunday, EU leaders finally signed off on May’s Brexit plan that has been hammered out in Brussels.
After the leaders of the remaining 27 member states, meeting in the Belgian capital, took less than 40 minutes to approve the deal, she confirmed she would now put it to a vote of MPs before Christmas.
As EU leaders lined up to insist that there could be no renegotiation, May said the public was fed up of wrangling over Brexit and wanted to move on.
However, with more than 80 Tory MPs declaring publicly that they intend to vote against the plan, May faces an uphill battle to make the parliamentary arithmetic add up.
Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that Labour would be voting against the agreement, denouncing it as a “bad deal” for Britain.
May has refused to be drawn on whether she would stand down if she lost the vote, despite being repeatedly pressed during her end of summit press conference.
Meanwhile, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker led the warnings that there could be no return to the negotiating table if the deal – comprising the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration of future EU-UK relations – was rejected.