Emmanuel Macron dampens hopes of Brexit breakthrough ahead of Theresa May meeting
The French government has scotched suggestions Theresa May might be able to soften France's hardline Brexit stance at a meeting with President Emmanuel Macron today.
The Prime Minister is cutting short her holiday to Italy for face-to-face talks at Fort de Brégançon, Mr Macron's summer retreat on the Côte d’Azur.
The summit - the latest in a diplomatic offensive by Cabinet ministers since Mrs May agreed her controversial Chequers Brexit plan - is being seen as a chance to persuade Mr Macron to break ranks with the rest of the European Union.
But an Elysee Palace spokesperson dampened hopes of a breakthrough, telling reporters the meeting was "not a negotiation" and was "not a substitute for the negotiations led by" chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
The French President has so far struck a tough stance on Brexit, condemning British demands for post-Brexit justice cooperation and arguing that the EU's four freedoms - of the movement of goods, capital, services and labour - are indivisible.
The spokesperson said Mr Macron had full trust in the EU's chief negotiator, adding: “That’s how it will remain."
Mr Barnier on Thursday repeated warnings that the EU was not prepared to compromise on the single market and the customs union in order to strike a withdrawal agreement.
He said: "The UK knows well the benefits of the single market. It has contributed to shaping our rules over the last 45 years. And yet, some UK proposals would undermine our single market, which is one of the EU’s biggest achievements.
"The UK wants to keep free movement of goods between us, but not of people and services. And it proposes to apply EU customs rules without being part of the EU’s legal order.
"Thus, the UK wants to take back sovereignty and control of its own laws, which we respect, but it cannot ask the EU to lose control of its borders and laws."
A Number 10 source meanwhile sought to use the crunch meeting with the French President to pile pressure on rebel Conservatives who have ripped into the Chequers deal.
They warned that continued Tory party infighting over the controversial agreement - which seeks a "combined customs territory" with the EU - would only strengthen the hand of Brussels.
"Our conversations with the French over the last week have revealed that they are watching what’s going on in Westminster very closely," the source told The Sun.
“They don’t think there is any reason to give any ground at the moment, when the hardcore Brexiteers or extreme Remainers could rip it all up in the Commons in the Autumn.”
They added: "That’s why it’s so important for everyone to back Theresa now rather than their own vanity causes."