Brexit : British products exported to EU must comply with our standards, says Minister

Brexit – Interview given by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the daily newspaper Les Echos

Paris, 13 May 2020

Q. – At the National Assembly on Thursday you’re championing the “Brexit chapter” of the Enabling Bill for tackling the coronavirus epidemic. What measures does this legislation provide for?

THE MINISTER – That’s right, the legislation provides for the possibility of issuing ordinances in relation to the UK’s future relationship after the transition period. Government is responsible for protecting the country from the unexpected. We aren’t doomfully gambling on a failure of the negotiations, but we’ve got to make sure businesses and citizens are protected in the event of a partial deal or no deal. And there are a number of subjects we’ve planned to get guarantees on.

Q. – A few examples?

THE MINISTER – Rail safety in the Channel Tunnel first of all. We want to negotiate a new agreement with the British, but in case this fails, measures must be planned if we want to avoid having to close it. There’s also the issue of protecting French people’s savings. Some savings, for instance the PEA or life insurance, may comprise British shares. If we do nothing, the banks could be required to liquidate these shares in an emergency. We want to avoid that. Finally, from a defence and security perspective, we must ensure that the bilateral agreements for exporting defence and space products we produce together are still operational.

Q. – What do you think about the mindset of the British in this negotiation on the future relationship?

THE MINISTER – Clearly they aren’t tackling the tough subjects even though they’re asking Michel Barnier to speed up the discussions so things are wrapped up by the end of the year. It’s important they honour the commitments made in the withdrawal agreement of October 2019. They’ve committed to negotiating issues which can’t be ignored: fisheries, fair competition conditions and the governance of this new relationship. By refusing this negotiation, the British run the risk of imposing a double sentence on our economies by imposing a no-trade-deal Brexit just as these economies emerge from the health crisis.

Q. – Isn’t Boris Johnson once again putting the European Union up against the wall to force it to reach a last-minute compromise?

THE MINISTER – Today it’s a question of acting responsibly for your citizens and businesses. In Normandy, in Brittany, in the Hauts-de-France, there are businesses that export a third or half of what they produce; whole economic sectors are affected; I refuse to explain to them that they’ll no longer have access to the British market, or that competition will be distorted because we haven’t managed to reach an agreement. We don’t want winners and losers, we’re seeking a balanced relationship for the future. The 27 are totally united on this.

Q. – The British believe complying with European standards impedes their sovereignty…

THE MINISTER – Politically, they’re fully sovereign and they apply the standards they wish. But when it’s about exporting goods to the European Union, it’s legitimate for us to ask them to comply with our rules, our European sovereignty. On health security, reducing pesticides or carbon intensity, we can’t imagine importing British products that don’t comply with those standards.

Q. – Is an agreement on fisheries taking shape?

THE MINISTER – We have two aims. Fishermen from eight countries fish in British waters. We must create not only resource management rules but also a framework that provides a clear way ahead, so as not to have to renegotiate quotas every year… On these points, the British are refusing to talk. Under these conditions, how can we speed up the timetable?

Q. – The coronavirus crisis has completely eclipsed the issue of Brexit. Won’t the economic meltdown descending on Europe mask the Brexit effect if the UK leaves without an agreement?

THE MINISTER – First of all, that’s not a pretext for shirking your responsibilities. And a trade agreement also has an economic impact over 10 or 20 years. There are many things at stake in the negotiation which go well beyond the time of this coronavirus crisis.

Q. – Doesn’t the spectacle of division provided by the European Union on the handling of the coronavirus crisis give arguments to the Brexiters?

THE MINISTER – If you add up all the Europeans’ decisions to support the economy, collective purchases of equipment, strategic reserves and the decisive role of the ECB, that makes a lot of tools enabling us to combat the virus together. We’re also working on a European plan to massively stimulate the economy, which has received political endorsement at the highest level. The British are going to have to deal with this crisis solely with their national resources./.

Published on 15/05/2020

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