Paris was meant to be the more difficult leg of Theresa May’s first European tour as Prime Minister. But May’s press conference with Francois Hollande was far more cordial than expected.
The French President was at pains to stress all the forms of cooperation that would continue between the two countries after the UK left the EU. He continued to back the Le Touquet agreement which keeps the UK border at Calais. However, he still wants Article 50 served quickly; ‘the sooner, the better’ was how he put it. There was, though, a tiny bit of softening on the question of talking about things before then.
May, for her part, turned in a crisp performance. She spoke some French, and with a better accent than most British politicians manage, and rightly stressed that she wanted the friendship between the two countries to continue and to make Brexit work for both the UK and the EU.
The Prime Minister, though, is playing her cards close to her chest on what she wants out of a UK EU deal. She stressed that she wanted the ‘closest possible economic relationship’ between the UK and France, that she wanted the ‘right deal on goods and services between the UK and the EU’ but that responding to the referendum result would require ‘some controls’ on free movement. How she balances all these factors out will determine what kind of deal she can negotiate with the EU.
Theresa May is enjoying, and extending, her political honeymoon right now. She has looked assured on this her first European trip as PM. But, ultimately, her premiership will be defined by the Brexit deal that she negotiates and whether it is a success or not.