Brexit: Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron hold talks

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image source, Reuters

Theresa May has met Emmanuel Macron as she stepped up her efforts to win backing for her Brexit plans.

The UK prime minister cut short her holiday for talks at the French president's summer retreat.

It came after UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab held talks with his counterparts in Paris on Thursday.

Ahead of the talks, the UK's former ambassador to France warned Mrs May not to expect a Brexit breakthrough from the meeting.

Lord Ricketts told the BBC that Mr Macron was "the last person" to want to break ranks with the rest of the EU to push for a softer stance from Brussels.

Mr Macron "doesn't believe in softening" the position on Brexit as "he is a passionate pro-European", the peer said.

The two leaders met at Mr Macron's summer residence in Fort de Brégançon, on a small island off the French Mediterranean coast.

A cry for help?

image source, Reuters
image captionThe PM cut short her walking holiday in Italy

By BBC Paris Correspondent Lucy Williamson

Mrs May's visit has been described in the French press as a "cry for help".

The meeting with President Macron at his summer retreat - reportedly at her request - is seen as a bid to circumvent the European Commission and, according to the editorials here, exposes "obvious" British anxiety.

The centre-right Le Figaro has a particularly colourful editorial which pictures Mrs May trying to wrest the steering wheel of the Brexit car from different factions of her party back home, as it "jolts over the London potholes and skids on the oil slicks of Brussels".

Never mind "take back control" the paper says, Britain has lost control of Brexit.

After Michel Barnier's chilly response to Mrs May's Brexit plan last month, this visit - which cuts short her summer walking holiday - is part of a charm offensive by the British government to see what progress can be made with individual European leaders.

Many here in France believe the chance of a "no deal" Brexit is growing.

But that pressure is unlikely to deliver the kind of concessions the prime minister would like.

Mr Macron is a pragmatic man, but he has staked his presidency on a strong EU, and has so far stuck fast to core principles on the single market.

France may show a little flexibility later in the game, one former French official told me, but not the kind of flexibility on which Britain is currently banking.

After the hastily arranged talks, Mrs May and her husband, Philip, joined the president and his wife Brigitte for a five-course private dinner.

They dined on tomatoes and saffron flavoured langoustines; thyme-flavoured sea bass; chicken with vegetables; cheese and finished with a choice of dark chocolate creme brulee or fruit.

The prime minister ended her break in the Italian Lakes a day early for the talks, although she will fly to Switzerland for a second break later this month.

Ahead of her meeting with Mr Macron, Mrs May spoke by phone to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker about Brexit and global trade.

'The biggest risk'

On Thursday, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier signalled a willingness to be flexible in Brexit negotiations around the Northern Ireland border.

Calling the issue "the biggest risk" caused by Brexit, Mr Barnier said he was "ready to improve" the EU's proposals.

The EU wants Northern Ireland to be part of a common regulatory area for goods and customs if a trade deal has not been reached by the end of the planned 21 month post-Brexit transition period - something the UK has rejected.

Mr Barnier was also positive about reaching a free trade deal "unprecedented in scope and depth".

He warned that any deal must not undermine free movement of goods, capital, services and labour within the EU single market by setting up free movement in goods only.

But he added: "I remain confident that the negotiations can reach a good outcome.

"It is possible to respect EU principles and create a new and ambitious partnership."

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