Yes/no referendum on EU a mistake: Macron

French president says he respects the UK's decision on Brexit, but believes the question was a risk and hopes to welcome Britain back to the EU in future

22 January 2018
By Connexion journalist

President Emmanuel Macron said the UK had taken a big risk in the referendum by asking voters to answer "yes or no on a very complicated subject".

In a wide-ranging interview on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show during his first visit to the UK as France's head of state, Mr Macron described the 2016 referendum as a "mistake" but added the UK could still change its mind.

"I do respect this vote, I do regret this vote, and I would love to welcome you again," he said.

Mr Macron repeated the warning that the British government could not cherry-pick benefits of EU membership - and said it was important not to let people believe that they could. But he also admitted the French would "probably" have voted for 'Frexit' if they were presented with a similar yes/no question in a similar political situation.

“Yes. Probably. In a similar context," he said, when challenged directly by interviewer Andrew Marr. "But our context was very different, so I don’t want to take any bets.

“It is a mistake to just ask 'yes or no' when you don’t ask people how to improve the situation and to explain how to improve it.

“You always take a risk when you ask in a referendum yes or no on a very complicated subject.”

Mr Macron said he believed the vote to leave the EU was driven by the middle and working classes, and older people, who had "decided that the recent decade was not in their favour".

"When I look at your debate it was too much favourable just for the City and less favourable for the rest of the country," he said.

A special trade deal between the UK and EU would fall somewhere between the single market and a trade agreement, he said, adding the UK could have "deeper relations" with the EU than other countries, but ruled out full access to the single market because, "you decided to leave".

"There should be no cherry-picking in the single market because that's a dismantling of the single market," he said.

"As soon as you decide not to join the [EU] preconditions, it's not a full access.

"What is important is to not make people believe that it is possible to [have your cake and eat it]."

He added that full access to the EU for the UK's financial services sector was "not feasible" outside the single market. But he insisted he did not want to "unplug" the City from the EU, adding: "It doesn't make sense, because it's part of the whole financing of our European Union."

“But for sure, except if you change your mind, you will not be part of the single market, as you will not be part of the European Union.”

Stay informed:
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France

Get news, views and information from France