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France not seeking to ‘punish’ UK over Brexit

media Demonstrators supporting Brexit protest outside of the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

France has no intention of "punishing" Britain over Brexit, the French foreign minister said Thursday in response to comments from his British counterpart Boris Johnson.

Johnson said Wednesday he feared French President Francois Hollande wanted to inflict "punishment beatings" on Britain, comparing proposed trade tariffs to punishments meted out to prisoners who tried to escape in World War II movies.

Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Johnson's claim was an attempt to divert attention from the potential consequences of leaving the European Union.

"This is not about 'punishing' the United Kingdom, that is not France's stance," Ayrault told reporters.

Johnson's statement was a "smokescreen to allow those who supported Brexit to play down the impact on people, because they can clearly see the negative consequences", Ayrault added.

France has been particularly critical of the post-Brexit British government, with Finance Minister Michel Sapin saying this week it appeared to be "improvising" and had no real plan for an exit.

British Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed this week that Britain would leave Europe's single market and warned the EU against imposing harsh terms on its divorce from the bloc.

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