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French presidential hopeful indicates UK could keep border controls in Calais

The front-runner in the race for the French presidential election has indicated he is ready to allow Britain to keep border controls - and unwanted migrants - on the other side of the Channel after Brexit.

Emmanuel Macron suggested last year that if the UK voted for Brexit, Paris could tear up a crucial agreement which permits British border officials to operate on French soil, saying: "The day this relationship unravels, migrants will no longer be in Calais."

But in talks with Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street, the former French economy minister said he was willing to work to "improve" the deal, signed in Le Touquet in 2003.

His comments came as current President Francois Hollande appealed for the UK to take in more un accompanied child refugees currently in France.

Mr Hollande told a conference in Paris: "I call on the United Kingdom to shoulder its responsibilities concerning adolescents today in France currently who have families across the Channel.

"We have made efforts to shelter and welcome them. They want to go to the UK. We have agreements with our friend and neighbour country and these agreements by our friend and neighbour must be fully respected."

But a Downing Street spokesman responded: "We have done a huge amount of work in accepting asylum seekers and vulnerable children from France and that work continues, as it does in other parts of Europe and other parts of the world. In the past year alone, we have taken in 8,000 children, so we don't accept the suggestion we are not doing enough."

Mr Macron requested the meeting with Mrs May during a visit to rally support from French ex-pats in London behind his campaign for this spring's election to choose a successor to Mr Hollande.

Speaking in English, he said he had assured her of his intention to seek a "fair" Brexit, which will "protect and defend French and European interests".

But he added: "At the same time, I reaffirmed my willingness first to have a fair execution of the Le Touquet agreement and to see what we can improve - because we have to improve some issues - and to pursue a further co-operation in terms of defence."

In less welcome news for Mrs May, Mr Macron voiced his determination to attract talented workers including bankers and academics to move from the UK to France in the wake of Brexit, and said he hoped to persuade his fellow countrymen - thousands of whom work in London's financial services sector - to look for opportunities at home.

Standing outside the door of Number 10, he said: "I will have a series of initiatives to get talented people in research and lots of fields working here to come to France... I want banks, talents, researchers, academics and so on.

"I think that France and the European Union are a very attractive space now, so in my programme I will do everything I can to make it attractive and successful."

Around 200,000 French voters are believed to be resident in London, making it the sixth-largest centre of population taking part in the presidential election, conducted over two rounds in April and May.

Mrs May has repeatedly said she wants an early agreement on the status of EU nationals currently living in the UK but has declined to guarantee that they will retain their rights to live and work in the country after Brexit.

Asked whether he was concerned about the post-Brexit position of French citizens based in the UK, Mr Macron said: "Sure, and I think as part of the Brexit execution, I will be be very careful about the need for our people to be allowed to stay here and work in good conditions."

But he added: "I want to convince them that France is changing, I want to promote my country and make it succeed in the 21st century and (tell them) that now, in the coming years, they will have a lot of opportunities to come back to France and succeed in France."

Speaking shortly after it emerged that French authorities had held talks with UK universities, including Oxford and Warwick, on the possibility of setting up a post-Brexit campus in Paris, Mr Macron said: " I was very happy to see that some academics and researchers in the UK, because of Brexit, are considering coming to France to work.

"It will be part of my programme to be attractive for these talented people."

Mr Macron - a former socialist, who last year established the En Marche movement to fight the presidential election as an independent - accused his main rival Marine Le Pen of the National Front of trying to "push France into the 19th century" and said her plan to take the country out of the EU would "kill" the economy and harm middle-class interests.

Downing Street declined to confirm details of the meeting. A spokesman said no other presidential candidates had yet requested a meeting with Mrs May, but added there was a long-standing Government policy not to engage with the National Front.

Speaking in French to a rally of more than 3,000 people in Westminster, Mr Macron said it was important to visit London, citing Boris Johnson that the UK capital was the sixth biggest French city in the world.

When mentioning the name of the former London mayor and Brexit campaigner, whistles were heard in the audience, with Mr Macron saying: "Don't whistle, that's for people who have no hope."

He told the crowd: "We are at a particular time in the life of Great Britain and all expatriates here, it's pre-Brexit.

"We are at a unique time for Europe and for Franco-British relations.

"What I said to Theresa May is that it (Brexit discussions) would primarily be a European affair.

"We have an obvious agenda between France and the UK, but for me Brexit must be a discussion between EU and the UK, it cannot be 27 agendas and the UK. If we enter into a debate, or 27 debates, it will be damaging.

"If we don't negotiate Brexit well, it will be damaging to everyone."

He also told the crowd: "We must defend Europe's long-term interests and the special relationship between Britain and France."

Among the crowd was student Barnabe Colin, 19, who moved to London when he was three-years-old from Poitiers.

He said of Mr Macron: "He's detached from what's happened in the past. He's looking onwards to the future."

The teenager commented on how many young people were in the crowd, adding: "He's come to save the youth of the future."

Mr Colin said the number of young people in attendance shows that the youth want to be politically engaged and that they have "found their candidate".

A woman who gave her name only as Anne said she was "quite impressed" by Mr Macron.

The 51-year-old, who lives in London but is from Paris, said: "I was never into politics before it started going wrong with Brexit and Trump."

But she said she does not think people could find a better candidate than Mr Macron, adding: "I think I am going to vote for him."

Mr Macron addressed the packed crowd for well over an hour.

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