Brexit: Minister urges UK to comply fully with agreement

European affairs – Multilateralism/migrants/Brexit – Interview given by M. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs (excerpts)

Paris, 10 June 2021

G7/CORPORATE AND DIGITAL TAXATION

(...)

Q. – On the subject of the G7, there’s been an agreement by the G7 finance ministers on a minimum global corporation tax rate of 15%. So it’s a historic agreement but only a first step; it still has to be approved by the G7 and then the G20. The agreement is far from being concluded, and most importantly, do you think all the EU countries will agree to it?

THE MINISTER – Yes I think so, and I also want to say on this point that it was a battle fought by France and the EU. (...) For four years the Americans – this wasn’t Mr Biden’s fault, it was his predecessor – blocked in every format – G7, OECD etc. – the very idea of a tax on digital companies, of a minimum tax. We were all alone, then with Germany, with other European countries we’re getting there – so much the better. I’ve no doubt it will be confirmed at the G7 summit of heads of State and government; I think the G20 will support it without any problem. And the OECD, I hope, will reach an agreement in the summer.

Within the European Union, as you know, there’s no point in hiding things: tax rules are decided unanimously, and there are countries – I’m thinking of Ireland in particular – which are still opposed.

Q. – So there’s a risk of deadlock?

THE MINISTER – I believe we’ll overcome the risk of deadlock, and I say very sincerely – I also feel a personal affinity with Ireland, having lived there – that we can’t as Europeans agree to a continued deadlock on such sensitive issues. (...)

Q. – And on the other side, you’ve got a number of MEPs who think 15% isn’t enough. (...)

THE MINISTER – Well, it’s amusing this is being said to France; generally people tend to say the tax rate is too high. And I’d remind you that in France, even lowering it a little, precisely so it’s more in line with the major European economies, we’ll be at 25%. So we’ve got no problem with it being at 21%, we said we agreed – Bruno Le Maire said this – and why not even up to 25%? We don’t have a problem with that. It won’t handicap us. On the contrary, it would bring things closer towards our position in a way.

So it’s slightly – I’m still somewhat surprised – ridiculous for France to be told: you’re now in favour of fiscal dumping; we fought for this international convergence, this international fiscal justice. I think we can go back to all the President’s statements since the Sorbonne speech, four years ago now, and we’re always told that taxes are too high. So, you see, there has to be a bit of consistency and a bit of reason in all that. We’re in favour of the 15% rate, if it can meet with international consensus; if it’s a bit more, all the better. (…)

IMMIGRATION

Q. – A word to finish about immigration, before talking about Brexit. Should we go back on the Le Touquet Treaty, the agreement governing the France-UK border? That’s what Xavier Bertrand is asking for.

THE MINISTER – Well, I don’t think so. I don’t think so because in the short term we’d revive a serious difficulty, including for France. What would that mean? It would mean we’d have a sort of naval battle at sea over migration. The Le Touquet Treaty means that in order to prevent over-risky crossings, we actually deal with the migration issue in France. However, as I’ve said, the British are not honouring their commitments in terms of financial support. France is making an effort which is, I think, human, necessary, protective for us too, because otherwise we’d have even more attempted crossings and therefore, at the same time, even more people coming to Hauts-de-France. So it’s a false solution to say: let’s renege on the agreement and everything will be settled. On the other hand, our cooperation with the British must be more stringent. They must help us, because we’re also doing it in their interest: managing the border, combating trafficking, combating illegal immigration, which – I have no qualms, no hesitation in [saying] this – creates dangers for security and tranquillity in the Hauts-de-France region. (…)

BREXIT

Q. – And on Brexit, how are things going? Agreements were negotiated with them, every inch of the way, over four years; there are a number of points they’re not complying with. What do we do? What follow-up can you ensure regarding their commitments, and how do we make them honour those?

THE MINISTER – I’ll be frank with you, I’m very worried about Britain’s behaviour and compliance with the agreement we signed. Let me stress this, it’s a matter of honour and respect and international credibility. The UK is a great democracy, a member of the United Nations Security Council which signs international agreements, and it reneges on them? It doesn’t create a good impression. (…)

Q. – There are other points where concerns exist.

THE MINISTER – Yes, there are two issues… To be very clear: there’s fisheries, that’s very specific. The President, Marine Affairs Minister Annick Girardin and I fought every inch of the way to defend fishermen’s interests. We have a good agreement. Now it must be implemented; we’re not going to allow a rematch…

Q. – They’re finding ways of not complying with it…

THE MINISTER – Yes, or they’re drawing out a number of administrative procedures. Maybe there was some information that hadn’t been received or passed on; we’ve improved things further in recent weeks. So there’s no longer any excuse for that, our fishermen must be specifically given all the licences to access the sea, particularly fishermen from Hauts-de-France. And there’s also an issue that seems more remote but concerns us all, namely the Northern Ireland Protocol, i.e. how the border is managed.

Q. – The peace process…

THE MINISTER – Exactly, it’s peace in Europe that’s at stake. And the British can’t tell us, “we have a protocol which facilitates checks” but which necessarily creates a few checks, because we have a market: we in France check that what comes from the UK – in terms of health protection, in terms of environmental regulations – works and abides by our rules; that’s right and proper. So they can’t tell us, “you’re bad, you created a protocol, you created checks”. It was Brexit that created a border and checks; you have to be serious. The protocol is a response to try and minimize the problems. The problem is Brexit, not the protocol.

And so we’re expecting the UK to comply with the agreement fully, because it signed it, because its Parliament ratified it. The agreement stipulates that if that’s not the case, we’ll take retaliatory measures: customs duties and other measures… I hope we don’t get to that stage, but unless things move forward, we will…

Q. – Is that on the table ? Is it possible?

THE MINISTER – Of course it’s on the table, because that’s in the agreement. All we’re asking for is compliance with commitments made, signed and ratified.

Q. – Are there any more underhand tricks to fear in other areas, for example social and fiscal dumping?

THE MINISTER – I hope not, and in any case – let me be very clear – we won’t be weak or naive. And we’ll respond, because that’s in the interest of our fishermen, our businesses, our consumers, European and French citizens, more specifically, who I have to defend, who we have to defend; we’ll defend them without any hesitation./.

Published on 11/06/2021

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