ONE of the most contentious parts of Theresa May’s letter triggering Article 50 was the proposal to negotiate exit terms at the same time as a new trade deal.

European leaders had already told the Prime Minister that she could not do both the divorce and the new relationship at the same time. Before the “deep and meaningful” new partnership between Britain and the EU could happen, the UK would first needs to settle its bills.

Nevertheless, May persisted.

Speaking to the Prime Minister on Thursday night, French President Francois Hollande gave the Prime Minister a polite but firm non.

Hollande was echoing remarks made by European council president, Donald Tusk, and German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

According to a statement released by the Elysée Palace, Hollande told May: “First we must begin discussions on the modalities of the withdrawal, especially on the rights of citizens and the obligations arising from the commitments that the United Kingdom has made.

“On the basis of progress made, we could then open discussions on the framework of the future relations between the United Kingdom and the EU.”

Merkel said on Wednesday that the negotiations “must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship … and only when this question is dealt with can we – hopefully soon after – begin talking about our future relationship”.

Downing Street said they were sure this was just a tactic from the Europeans.

“It’s the beginning of the negotiation. We expected robust positions to be taken at the start and let’s see where we get to,” a spokesman said.

“We believe the negotiation should take place in parallel.

“Our position is clear.

“And it does make clear in article 50 that the future arrangements for the country leaving should be part of the framework for the article 50 process.”

May also spoke to Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, EU parliament president Alessandro Tajani, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo.

The Prime Minister attempted to woo the European press, publishing columns in seven newspapers, across the continent.

She mostly talked of a continued friendship after Brexit.

However, there was again, the implicit threat that security, intelligence, might be withheld unless the Europeans offered Britain a good deal.

Writing in French newspaper La Parisien, the Prime Minister said: “We will continue to be strong partners of France and all our friends on the continent.”

While in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Prime Minister committed to continuing to work with European partners on key foreign affairs issues like the Syrian crisis and the integrity of Ukraine.

“In an increasingly unstable world, that collaboration is more, not less, important for us all,” she wrote in the Irish Times. “I want the UK’s new relationship with the EU to ensure that – whether it comes to exchanging the information our security services need, or working together to protect Europe’s borders – we have the closest possible relationship.”

The security threat saw Gianni Pittella, leader of the socialists and democrats group in the European parliament, accused the UK of playing “with people’s lives in these negotiations. “ France’s Le Monde newspaper, however, said May’s tactic was “barefaced blackmail”: if you don’t open your single market to our products, the UK will cease police, intelligence and anti-terror cooperation.”

David Davis denied there was a threat to withdraw security cooperation.