Emmanuel Macron has warned British leaders that the UK can expect no concessions in Brexit negotiations if he is elected French president, vowing to take a rigid line on access to the EU’s single market and the powers of the European Court.
Macron, a frontrunner in France's increasingly fraught presidential race, stood on the steps of Downing Street and also vowed to lure bankers and talented professionals from Britain.
Mr Macron vowed to push for an unbreakable “Franco-German position” to defend the collective interests of the EU, presumably to prevent the UK trying to split off countries as talks drag on. He would ensure that British withdrawal from the union is fully compliant with the strict terms of EU treaty law.
“I take a classical view of what it means to be a member of the EU. I don’t want to accept any caveat or waiver,” he told a group of British journalists in London.
The 39-year old centrist candidate and former economy minister warned that the EU’s four sacred freedoms of goods, services, capital, and people are indivisible, insisting that Britain will not be allowed to cherry pick parts of the arrangement.
The European Court must remain the supreme legal body with jurisdiction over Britain under any post-Brexit transition deal, a demand likely to raise hackles in the Conservative Party and endanger any accord.
The comments came after he emerged from an hour-long meeting with the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to discuss the contours of Brexit and a common defence policy.
Outside Downing Street, asked if he wanted banks to move to France after Brexit, Macron responded: "I will have a series of initiatives to get talented people in research and lots of fields working here to come to France ... I want banks, talents, researchers, academics and so on.
I think that France and the European Union are a very attractive space now so in my programme I will do everything I can to make it attractive and successful."
A spokesman for May said London was a leading global financial centre and would remain so after Brexit.
The former Rothschild banker and posh 'Enarque' later turned his Gallic charm on some 3,000 members of Britain's 300,000-strong community of French expatriates. This crucial constituency is well-aligned with his ideological mix of Left-wing social views and reformist free-trade liberalism in economics, and is a major source of funding for grass-roots campaign.
Mr Macron acknowledged that Mrs May’s pledge to remain a good friend of Europe after Brexit had improved the atmosphere, and said that it is imperative to reach a settlement that “does not damage everything”.
Yet it is hard to see how he hopes to preserve this cordial relationship if the EU takes a purist stance that leads to the erection of bilateral trade barriers. It does not insist on the letter of the four freedoms in its free trade deal with the sovereign state of Canada.
Mr Macron, a former economy minister, suggested that there could be some market access provided Britain made “strong contributions” to the EU budget to share the administrative burden of the system. He did not address the issue of what the EU will offer for access to the valuable British market.
Whether the enfant terrible of French politics will ever make it to the second round of the presidential elections in May is far from clear. The latest BFM-Elabe poll shows him slipping suddenly to third place with just 17pc support, lagging ex-premier François Fillon and far behind the Front National’s Marine Le Pen.
Mr Macron also indicated he is ready to allow Britain to keep border controls - and unwanted migrants - on the other side of the Channel after Brexit.
He suggested last year that if the UK voted for Brexit, Paris could tear up a crucial agreement which permits British border officials to operate on French soil, saying: "The day this relationship unravels, migrants will no longer be in Calais."
But in the talks with Mrs May he was willing to work to "improve" the deal, signed in Le Touquet in 2003.
This is the first time a British Prime Minister has met a French presidential candidate since Tony Blair received Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.
With rivals claiming he doesn't have the experience (he has never held elected office) or the mettle to deal with the likes of Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump, his unexpected meeting with Mrs May - announced via Twitter by his team on Monday afternoon - will help bolster his statesman credentials.
However, he cannot afford to appear too gushing towards the Prime Minister, whose party many in France accuse of having placed a spanner in the works of the European Union and bolstered Ms Le Pen's argument that France should stage a "Frexit" referendum of its own.
Mrs May would normally be politically closer to Mr Fillon, who wants to enact a radical overhaul of the public sector and has previously expressed deep admiration for Margaret Thatcher, but he has made no indication he intends to visit the UK.
On Monday, Mr Fillon unveiled watered-down public healthcare reforms after earlier plans to part-privatise the system saw him nosedive in the polls.
The meeting comes at a crucial moment in Mr Macron's presidential run; whose promise to enact a "democratic revolution" on a "neither Left nor Right" ticket appears to be losing steam.
After a spell out in front, one poll on Monday afternoon suggested he had lost ground to his closest election rival, embattled conservative Francois Fillon, and might not make a May 7 runoff against far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Up until now he has been neck and neck in the election's knock-out first round with Mr Fillon, who has been embroiled in fake jobs allegations involving his British wife.
The Elabe poll put Mr Macron, a former investment banker and economy minister, on 17-18 per cent in the first round, with Mr Fillon on 20 to 21 per cent.
Polls suggest that whichever candidate makes it to round two of the election on May 7 will go onto beat Marine Le Pen, the far-Right Front National leader, who is widely tipped to reach the run-off only to lose. However, the gap between the FN leader and either rival has also narrowed - rattling markets.
Meanwhile, Mr Macron's support base is by far the most volatile, the same polls suggest, meaning a major faux pas could see him drop behind.
Although critics accuse Mr Macron of sitting on the fence by remaining woefully short on policy details, he can expect a warm welcome from around 4,500 people, many working in the financial sector, registered to attend the London event organised by his youthful grassroots campaign En Marche! (On the Move!).
While other candidates have blasted globalisation and big business, Mr Macron embraces the "liberal" market economy and a start-up mindset He has pledged to help "outsiders" locked out of France's generous system rather than the minority of "insiders" who reap its cosy benefits and block any change.
Around a third of the 300,000 globally minded French nationals living in London have registered to vote in the upcoming election as part of the Northern Europe constituency, meaning that their support could prove significant given the unpredictable outcome.
Mr Macron is staunchly pro-European and recently warned he would advocate a "pretty tough" line in Brexit negotiations with Britain.
French expatriates at the event at Central Westminster Hall on Monday night may seen him as the antidote to the soak-the-rich policies of his former boss, Mr Hollande, whose 75 per cent tax on millionaires Mr Macron himself derided as turning France into "Cuba without the sun". The measure drove many to move o the UK.
This week, Mr Macron is finally due to start revealing hard policies, starting with his budgetary plans on Friday. He has already said he wants to cut state spending by €60 billion over five years. He will then outline around ten main manifesto "themes" as part of a "contract with the nation" on March 2.
Mr Fillon was forced to show much of his hand far earlier in party primaries, promising to cut more than half a million jobs from the state sector and force civil servants to work longer hours for the same pay.
Ms Le Pen, meanwhile, this month outlined 144 proposals to the French electorate, which include leaving the eurozone, slowing immigration and calling a referendum on leaving the European Union.
Mr Macron has raised several million euros in campaign funds from dinners and invitation-only meetings with expatriates in London and other capitals at which guests are invited to contribute as much as €7,500 (£6,400) to support his candidacy.
His team said he was due to meet high-level contacts in London in the search for fresh donations.
Another key event for Mr Macron this week is whether François Bayrou, a high-profile centrist who came third in the 2007 presidential election, decides to run or throw his weight behind his younger, more urbane alter-ego.
French media suggest Mr Bayrou has been horse-trading for the conditions of his support but has not ruled out running for president for a fourth time.
His candidacy could deprive Mr Macron of vital votes in the centre ground.
Mr Bayrou is due to make an announcement on Wednesday afternoon in Paris.