Britain must justify any delay on EU exit talks: Hollande

French President Francois Hollande speaks at a press conference in Dublin, Ireland, on July 21, 2016.
French President Francois Hollande speaks at a press conference in Dublin, Ireland, on July 21, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

DUBLIN (REUTERS)- British Prime Minister Theresa May must justify any foot-dragging over the opening of formal talks to quit the European Union, French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday (July 21), adding pressure on her to launch negotiations quickly.

Hollande, due to meet May in Paris later on Thursday, told a news conference during a visit to Ireland that he would hear May out but did not see an interest in putting off exit negotiations.

May has said her government is unlikely to trigger the formal divorce process until next year as London works out how best to tackle the complex negotiation.

Hollande said that May's appointment last week as prime minister had more quickly than expected resolved the question of who would lead the negotiations on Britain's behalf, leaving little reason to postpone.

"First we spoke of September, then October and now December. There needs to be justifications. If it is to delay the negotiation, which itself could take time, I think it would create a damaging uncertainty," Hollande said. "If it is to have more time for the negotiations so that the negotiations are shorter, then that can be envisaged."

In reaction to the pressure from Hollande, a spokeswoman for May said her government needed the time to prepare the negotiations.

Hollande, who was speaking in Dublin where he and Irish Prime minister Enda Kenny issued a joint statement urging rapid exit talks, also said he would confer with German leader Angela Merkel after his meeting with May.

In talks in Berlin on Wednesday, Merkel agreed with May that Britain needed time to put together a negotiating stance before triggering a formal divorce from the bloc, though the German leader was clear that no one wanted "a long period of limbo".