Nicolas Sarkozy would give Britain the chance to reverse the Brexit vote if he is elected president of France.
Speaking to business leaders in Paris, the former French president said he would negotiate a new treaty for the European Union with Germany that could persuade Britain to remain, the Financial Times (FT) reported.
The day after the result is announced in May, Mr Sarkozy said he would fly to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in order to secure her support for a draft of the new EU treaty, and then the following day he would carry on to London.
“I would tell the British, you’ve gone out, but we have a new treaty on the table so you have an opportunity to vote again,” the FT reports Mr Sarkozy to have said.
“But this time not on the old Europe, on the new Europe.
"Do you want to stay? If yes, so much the better. Because I can’t accept to lose Europe’s second-largest economy while we are negotiating with Turkey over its EU membership. And if it’s no, then it’s a real no.
"You’re in or you’re out.”
Mr Sarkozy is currently vying for the centre-right presidential nomination in November. If elected he has promised a grand overhaul of the EU.
According to the FT, the former president said a new treaty would:
- Reform the Schengen passport-free movement zone.
- Restrict the European Commission's privileges.
- Integrate the eurozone further.
- Halt EU membership talks with Turkey.
Mr Sarkozy added: “Maybe it’s time to tell Turkey that its place is in Asia.
“I am a staunch European, I would never accept to leave the euro, but Europe doesn’t function, at all."
A new treaty is the only way to stop anti-EU forces, such as France's far-right National Front, gaining strength across Europe, Mr Sarkozy said.
Currently Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will not trigger Article 50 - which would begin a two-year period for the UK's exit negotiations - this year, but has not said when she will.
- ITV News Europe Editor James Mates believes Mr Sarkozy's proposal is "very, very interesting" as he is the "first major European figure to even raise this prospect of trying to keep the British in" the EU.