PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said a no-deal Brexit would be of Britain’s own making and not the European Union’s, adding that any trade pact London cut with Washington would not mitigate the cost of leaving the bloc without a deal.
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Fort Bregancon near the village of Bormes-les-Mimosas, France August 19, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
The French leader said the demands made by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a renegotiation of the divorce deal, including the removal of the Irish backstop, were not workable.
He spoke to reporters in Paris as German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin gave Johnson 30 days to draw up an alternative solution to the backstop, an insurance policy to prevent the return of a hard border between Britain’s province of Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.
“Can the cost for Britain of a hard Brexit – because Britain will be the main victim – be offset by the United States of America? No. And even if it were a strategic choice it would be at the cost of a historic vassalisation of Britain,” he said.
“I don’t think this is what Boris Johnson wants. I don’t think it is what the British people want.”
Earlier on Wednesday, an official in Macron’s office said France now saw a no-deal as the most likely scenario come Britain’s Oct. 31 deadline and that there was not a “cigarette paper” standing between the positions of France, Germany and other EU states.
“The British are attached to being a great power, a member of the Security Council. The point can’t be to exit Europe and say ‘we’ll be stronger’, before in the end, becoming the junior partner of the United States, which are acting more and more hegemonically,” Macron added.
Macron said he saw no reason to grant a further delay to Brexit unless there was a significant political change in Britain, such as an election or a new referendum. French officials say if Britain requested an extension in order to hold a new election, the EU would probably grant it.
Speaking of the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, Macron said: “That would be Britain’s doing, always.”
The French official cited earlier said that a no-deal Brexit would not remove Britain’s obligation to pay its exit bill to the EU. “There is no magic world in which the bill no longer exists,” the official said.
Sticking to his previous hard line on Brexit, Macron said he would not accept renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement agreed between Johnson’s predecessor and the bloc, and dropping the backstop.
“Why won’t we accept it? It’s simple: because what Boris Johnson suggests in his letter to President (Donald) Tusk is … to chose between the integrity of the single market and respecting the Good Friday Agreement.”
“We won’t chose between the two. We won’t jeopardise peace in Ireland, that would be one of the consequences of dropping the so-called backstop,” he said.
Ireland says checks could undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace after more than 3,600 died in a three-decade conflict between unionists who wanted Northern Ireland to remain British and Irish nationalists who want Northern Ireland to join a united Ireland ruled from Dublin.
“And we shall not accept that Europe becomes a sieve, that there shall be no more checks at the border … just because Mr Johnson doesn’t like (the backstop),” Macron added.
The French leader, who will be hosting Johnson for lunch on Thursday, said he expected the British prime minister to “clarify” his stance.
“We’ll have to clarify many things. I think that, at this stage, what was articulated still remains too imprecise.”
Reporting by Michel Rose; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Mathieu Rosemain, William Maclean and Alison Williams