September 26, 2018 / 4:06 AM / 23 days ago

EU has more pressing priorities than Brexit - French finance minister

PARIS (Reuters) - The European Union has more pressing priorities than Britain’s future relationship with the bloc, starting with its own future, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said.

FILE PHOTO: French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire delivers a speech during the official inauguration of the CMA CGM Antoine de Saint Exupery container ship in Le Havre, France September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

EU leaders last week rejected British Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposals for post-Brexit trade, standing firm on their position that the plan would undermine their cherished single market.

“The British made their choice, that’s fine. Excuse me to say so brutally, but there are more important things for us than the future of the United Kingdom. It’s the future of the European Union,” Le Maire told a small group of foreign journalists on Tuesday.

“Any decision that gives European citizens the impression that you can leave the European Union and keep all the advantages would be suicidal,” he added.

He said the priority was to strengthen the euro zone, notably by completing plans for a backstop for its bank resolution fund and creating a shared budget, so that it could cope with a new financial or economic crisis.

Paris is reluctant to let Britain’s EU divorce talks drag on and President Emmanuel Macron said last week that he expected Britain to put forward new proposals next month.

May has insisted she is sticking with her “Chequers” plan, despite fierce opposition from some in her party. She has complained that the EU had not given her detailed reasons for its rebuff.

Macron’s cabinet is holding meetings every two weeks to ensure practical preparations are in place should Britain leave the EU without a post-Brexit agreement in place.

Le Maire said far more was at stake for Britain as all estimates indicated Brexit would have only a limited impact on French economic growth.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas

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