Brexit: "We’re now entering a second phase", says Minister

Foreign policy – Brexit – Excerpts from the interview given by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Europe 1

Paris, 15 January 2020


Q. – On 31 January the British are going to pack up and leave Brussels, but actually the toughest bit is going to begin: the new relationship must be negotiated. The divorce has already been a little bit complicated to negotiate. Is what awaits you now going to be even tougher?

THE MINISTER – What’s certain is that what’s actually happening for French people, as they well understand, is that on 1 February…

Q. – Nothing’s happening in fact.

THE MINISTER – …there will no longer be any British MEPs in the European Parliament, there will no longer be any British European commissioners and there will no longer be any British ministers at European ministers’ meetings. It’s a political exit.

Now, we must actually be able to work on something that is, I think, going to be difficult, namely to recreate a relationship in every area – “disunravel” it, as it were –, because we have a trading relationship with the British, we have a defence and security relationship, we have a cultural, academic and research relationship. What matters for me is that we should be very clear: in these negotiations, we’re in no hurry.

Q. – Boris Johnson would very much like this to be settled by the end of the year.

THE MINISTER – Yes, but we Europeans, we French are aware of one very important thing: we’re currently building the foundation, the principles that are going to guide our relations with the British in every field for the next 20-30 years. And in those relations, things must be balanced, i.e. we must protect the interests of the French, because we must be able to guarantee their food security, the security of what’s imported. And above all, if we carry out major reforms, if we in Europe, for example, want to be carbon neutral by 2050…

Q. – The British must be too?

THE MINISTER – …we can’t accept that a country on our doorstep which, as Boris Johnson dreams of, we’re going to trade with freely, with no customs tariffs, no maximum volume, without asking whether it respects carbon neutrality by 2050, whether it respects, for example, the fact that we’re going to reduce, halve the volume of pesticides we put in our own modes of production, whether it respects things about taxation, about social commitments – in short, it’s out of the question for there to be any dumping. Why? Not because we’re dogmatic about the issue but because those are French people’s interests.

So we’re going to have a debate. There will be things where, clearly, we must do more with the British. And there are also things we’ll be strong about in order to assert our interests.

Q. – (…) Do you think all the Europeans will be able to remain united in the face of Boris Johnson, given that they’ll each want to defend their interests? For France it’s fisheries, for the Dutch it’s services.

THE MINISTER – All the Europeans have interests, not necessarily the same ones because, as you can well imagine, fisheries concern France more than Austria – geographically what I’m telling you is fairly basic. But what’s clear for all the Europeans is that we’re going to do this in close agreement, without animosity, but being very clear about the common and individual interests we’re defending in these negotiations. That’s in the Europeans’ interest, and I think the British will perfectly understand our doing it this way. (…)./.

Brexit – Excerpts from the interview given by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Europe 1

Paris, 10 January 2020

Q. – (…) Let’s talk about the future and turn to Britain. British MPs have approved the Brexit agreement after three and a half years of a saga packed with quarrels and twists and turns; is that it? Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

THE MINISTER – We can see that things are coming together so that the UK can leave the EU’s bodies politically, i.e. there’ll no longer be any British MEPs, there’ll no longer be any British European commissioners. That’s the political part and should happen on 31 January, since the European Parliament will itself be able to ratify it on the 29th. We’re now entering a second phase…

Q. – But this one is so sensitive! It’s the economic, financial phase.

THE MINISTER – It’s the phase of guarantees we’ve got to give to our citizens and businesses about the fact that we’re going to continue a relationship with the British, they’re on our doorstep; the British Isles aren’t going to move away!

Q. – And precisely to avoid a tax haven on our doorstep!

THE MINISTER – We want neither a tax haven nor environmental dumping.

Q. – So you’ve got guarantees?

THE MINISTER – These guarantees are the purpose of the negotiations which are going to begin. I can tell you something: we won’t sacrifice the quality of the agreement, responsibility, loyalty, balance or reciprocity to get an agreement quickly!

Q. – Boris Johnson must be trembling!

THE MINISTER – What they’re saying is…

Q. – Forgive me, but he’ll do what he wants! Once the country has left the EU, taxes, customs rights – he’ll be free to choose!

THE MINISTER – He’ll be free to choose and we’ll be free to know what we accept on our market. (…)

Q. – So another wrestling match, but important too!

THE MINISTER – But it’s a major wrestling match, because they’re partners, trade partners, partners in security and defence. But our citizens and businesses must have guarantees. (…)

Take climate issues, for example. The European Union has just said, “we want climate neutrality by 2050.” That’s going to give us a lot of standards, a lot of constraints, we’re going to do things which may be more costly, but because it’s a political choice. What does the UK want to do on the subject? How will it impose rules and standards, because our farmers, our manufacturers, our SMEs don’t want this and we understand them…

Q. – Indeed…

THE MINISTER – …and we’ll protect them!

Q. – You don’t want a tax haven, whereas many present Brexit as hell!

THE MINISTER – It isn’t just a tax issue, it’s an environmental issue, an industrial issue, a security issue…

Q. – …and a political one.

THE MINISTER – …and a political one. So we’ve got a negotiation and I can tell you that if Boris Johnson tells us, “this has got to be over in 11 months” and we need 15, 24 or 36… In the meantime, what’s important is for European standards to be applied on both sides of the Channel. (…)./.

Published on 24/01/2020

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