French minister rules out bilateral discussions outside of official Brexit talks

The French Government has “sympathy” for Scotland’s position following the European Union referendum, but will not enter into any “bilateral discussions” outside of official Brexit talks, a French minister has said.

Axelle Lemaire, minister of state for digital affairs and innovation, said it was “too early to tell” if a special deal for Scotland could be agreed, adding that it would require discussions between all 27 remaining member states.

The Scottish Government has said it will publish proposals aimed at keeping Scotland in the single market in the coming weeks.

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Nicola Sturgeon has previously said the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and European Economic Area (EEA) models were being looked at.

Asked if a unique arrangement for Scotland was possible as part of the UK’s Brexit deal, Ms Lemaire said: “It is too early to tell. We haven’t seen any beginning of a single page of Article 50 so we do not know what Britian will put on the table.

“This is a question that needs to be discussed between 27 member states and it wouldn’t be in the interest of neither France nor Britian, including Scotland, to seek any bilateral discussions in trying to secure some positionings from some member states.

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“I think that would put at risk the whole process. Even if we come to agree that we pursue the same objective, in terms of methods and tactics I think it is very important to stick together in Europe and accept that we need to design common positions according to what the British Government has put on the table.”

Ms Lemaire, who was giving a speech on the digital economy at the University of Edinburgh, is the first French Minister to visit Scotland since the EU referendum.

Freedom of movement of people and the future relationships of French and Scottish institutions are key concerns for the French Government she said.

“My presence here … in itself is a strong sign of sympathy to Scotland,” she said.

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“I talked to some of my colleagues back in Paris before coming and clearly the number one message was to ensure we have a close cooperation with Scotland.

“It is important to come to the University of Edinburgh because the capacity of our universities and research centres to keep working together is crucially important to maintain a high level of innovation throughout Europe.”

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