PARIS (Reuters) - Long and tortuous Brexit negotiations were not the result of any European Union desire to punish Britain for leaving the bloc, French European Affairs minister Clement Beaune said on Thursday.
The United Kingdom formally left the EU on Jan. 31, to implement the result of a 2016 referendum, but its bid to retain tariff-free access to the EU single market beyond 2020 only ended a week ago with the conclusion of a trade deal.
"With Brexit, Britain is punishing itself," Beaune told France's LCI television. "We weren't trying to punish it."
"Britain realised that having no access to the European market would be an economic disaster," he added. "This is why, in the deal that was reached, there is access to the European market, but while respecting our conditions and rules."
The UK officially leaves the European Union's orbit on Thursday night, after an often strained 48-year liaison with the European project.
"This day will be historic but it will be a sad day because, when a country leaves the EU for the first time after 45 years of living together, it is sad," Beaune said.
"Brexit must be a lesson that we must push forward better, faster and stronger as Europeans."
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Writing by Matthieu Protard; Editing by Kevin Liffey)