French economy minister Emmanuel Macron addresses the opening of 7th Annual Entrepreneurs conference at the economy ministry in Paris on November 17, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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French economy minister: The UK can't succeed outside the EU

Emmanuel Macron warns that leaving the European Union would reduce Britain to the status of "Jersey or Guernsey". 

Two and a half months ago, Emmanuel Macron was named France's economy minister by François Hollande with a mission to dramatically reform his country's scelerotic labour market. The 36-year-old former Rothschild banker, denounced by the Socialist Party's left as a "copy-and-paste Tony Blair", is in London this week to discuss his policy programme and the future of the EU with politicians and others.

After meeting his British equivalent Vince Cable and Labour's Chuka Umunna yesterday (he meets George Osborne today), Macron delivered a briefing to journalists at the French ambassador's residence in Kensington. Speaking in fluent English, without the aid of notes, he declared that it was now "impossible" to be a "classical socialist" since the need for fiscal consolidation meant the traditional option of ramping up public spending was no longer available. Instead, he said, the French government had embarked on an "ambitious" programme of structural reform, including new tax incentives for business, the liberalisation of the 35-hour week and the loosening of Sunday trading laws, to "increase opportunity" and "restore equality of chance". “Normally we spend public money. We are doing exactly the opposite, not because we are in favour of political suicide but because we see it as a unique opportunity to do the job [of reform]," he said, vowing to "attack monopolies" in order to "restore attractiveness to risk takers". 

But he emphasised that supply-side reform had to be coupled with demand-side investment in order to succeed. He urged Germany to take advantage of its healthy public finances and stimulate growth through higher spending. "I'm not in a situation to lecture the Germans but I think that it is good for Germany and for everyone else if they invest," he said, calling for the use of €50bn from the European Stability Mechanism to fund new capital projects. He cited the experience of Portugal, where all "possible reforms" had been made but growth had failed to return, as a lesson in the limits of austerity. 

It was on the question of British EU membership, however, that Macron was most blunt. After he declared that France's future lay in Europe, I asked him whether he was troubled by the possibility of UK withdrawal as a result of the referendum promised by David Cameron in 2017. He replied:

I think the UK is a sensible nation with rational people ... Unless it wants to be Jersey or Guernsey I don't see how the UK can succeed outside Europe.

He also warned that Britain could not expect to retain access to the single market if it left the EU and told the French press corps: "There should be no scaremongering. Britain's fate is definitely in Europe, nowhere else. The question is how they want to exercise their role in Europe and what kind of Europe they want." 

At the close of the briefing, Macron, who discussed the importance of EU membership with Umunna, promised to try and "mobilise" Osborne for positive action on a European level. On that, as well as his domestic reform agenda, he will need much luck. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.