French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has said he wants to lure banks from London to Paris in the aftermath of Brexit, striking a bullish and undiplomatic tone during a visit to Downing Street.
"I was very happy to see that some academics and researchers in the UK because of Brexit are considering coming to France to work," Macron said, after meeting Prime Minister Theresa May.
"It will be part of my programme to be attractive for these kinds of people. I want banks, talents, researchers, academics and so on."
Many executives in the City have privately scoffed at the prospect of moving significant operations to the French capital, citing the country's strict labour laws, political aversion to financial services, and Paris's lack of a legal and financial ecosystem to rival London.
Just last week, the French founder of private equity giant Ardian said: "London has always been the number one financial city in Europe, [and Brexit] will not change the situation for me. It will still be London... French people are less financially minded."
Nonetheless, Macron – who hopes to defeat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and conservative candidate Francois Fillon – expects France to benefit from talent migrating across the Channel. The former economy minister was in London whipping up support among the several hundred thousand French citizens who have crossed the other way, and now live and work in the UK.
Speaking ahead of a rally in Westminster, Macron said the European Union must take a hard line on the UK during Brexit talks.
"On financial passport, for instance, there is no access to the market without any contribution and respect of the four freedoms of the EU," he said.
"The four freedoms are just for one bloc, so you cannot grant access to one of the freedoms without ensuring that the burden of the others [is shared], or without strong coordination."
Macron met with both Prime Minister May and chancellor Philip Hammond while in Westminster. Downing Street declined to comment on talks with the En Marche candidate, describing his visit as "a private meeting".
It is relatively unusual for French presidential candidates to meet with the Prime Minister before an election. The last to do so was Nicolas Sarkozy, who held talks with Tony Blair in 2007.
The UK government has a long-standing policy of not engaging with Le Pen's hard-right Front National. Fillon, the candidate of the centre-right Republicans, has not announced any plans to travel to London.