Brexit: "It’s just the end of the beginning", says Minister

European Union – Brexit/Russia/Ukraine – Excerpts from the interview given by Mme Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, to France Info

Paris, 26 November 2018

UK/Brexit

Q. – You’re back from Brussels, where the 27 gave their go-ahead at the weekend to the agreement concluded on Brexit. What do you say to the British this morning? Good luck or good riddance?

THE MINISTER – What was concluded yesterday is a good agreement but it’s a bad piece of news. Brexit isn’t good news, certainly not for the European Union and not, we firmly believe, for the British. We’ll always miss them and they’ll miss us one day.

Now, it’s just the end of the beginning. We’ve agreed on the conditions of our separation. The British still need to ratify the agreement. And then we’ll have to build as close a future relationship as possible, because the United Kingdom is a great country and a great ally of the European Union. But all the same, it will be less good than when it was a member state.

Q. – “A great ally, a great country”: you regret the departure of the British. But isn’t Europe stronger this morning without them? For years, we know that they put up resistance on defence issues, currency issues. Won’t things be more straightforward from now on?

THE MINISTER – Europe is never straightforward, but it’s always essential. We’re seeing this with a lot of issues. You were talking this morning about implants. What’s needed today is greater European proactiveness to tackle a public health issue effectively.

No, the British being outside [the EU] isn’t good news. But you’re right, on Defence Europe we’ve made much faster progress in one year than we did before, and that’s perhaps because the British are leaving. Having said that, they’d like to work with us on Defence Europe.

Q. – Theresa May doesn’t currently have a parliamentary majority to vote this Brexit agreement through. What will happen if Parliament tells her no?

THE MINISTER – We’ll see if she has a majority or not. Some are saying she doesn’t. She’s extremely skilful and resilient, as she’s proved in a year of negotiations, and she’s shown great commitment. It’s not for me to say on her behalf whether she has a majority or not. What we can say to the British is that there can’t be a better agreement. If it isn’t this agreement…

Q. – The agreement which is on the table and was signed at the weekend – can’t it be refined? Can’t it be improved?

THE MINISTER – Michel Barnier has done a tremendous job. He’s been working on this withdrawal agreement for more than a year. Every scenario has been worked on from every angle, and the British negotiators know that equally well. It’s also what Mrs May is saying.

Q. – Is it this or nothing?

THE MINISTER – It’s this or no deal. There’s a risk, if there’s no majority, that there will be no withdrawal agreement, and we’re preparing for that too. As you know, I have a bill that is going before Parliament to take measures to protect our fellow citizens and our businesses in the event of no deal.

Q. – Does it seem to you possible that the British will return to the ballot box for a second referendum on Brexit?

THE MINISTER – It’s for them to decide, certainly not for us. We’re not going to tell them what to do or give them any advice.

Q. – Is there nothing banning it?

THE MINISTER – There’s nothing banning it. It wasn’t us who kicked out the British; the door is still open.

Ukraine

Q. – A few words about the current situation between Russia and Ukraine. At the weekend, Moscow fired on two Ukrainian vessels off Crimea, the region it annexed four years ago. What should Europe say to Moscow?

THE MINISTER – There’s a meeting of the United Nations Security Council this afternoon; it will enable us to see things clearly, particularly in terms of the exact sequence of events, because we’re hearing a lot of things but we must take the time to look at exactly what happened.

Europe means France and Germany in particular. And there’s a process called the Minsk process in which France and Germany play a special role when it comes to bringing about a de-escalation between Russia and Ukraine.

Tomorrow, Jean-Yves Le Drian is hosting a meeting with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister; this will obviously be central to their conversation. (…)./.

Published on 05/12/2018

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