No Brexit delay without credible move by UK - Ministers

Brexit – Reply by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to a question in the National Assembly

Paris, 20 March 2019

The House of Commons has held three contradictory votes, and the only certainty we can have today is that the British Prime Minister has just issued a request for a three-month extension of the negotiation period stipulated in Article 50 – that is, until 30 June 2019. That’s Mrs May’s request.

In this context, our position is to send the British a clear and simple message. As Theresa May has said herself several times, there are only two options for leaving the European Union: ratify the withdrawal agreement or leave without a deal.

In the event of a vote in favour of the withdrawal agreement, we will of course be open to a technical extension of a few weeks so that the British institutions can finalize ratification of the text.

However, in the absence of a vote approving the withdrawal agreement, the central scenario is departure without a deal. We’re ready for that.

And so in examining this request for an extension and the dates, we’ll be looking after the EU’s interests in particular. This requires three things: firstly, that the purpose of an extension is to finalize the ratification of the negotiated withdrawal agreement. Secondly, that the UK is very clear that the withdrawal agreement approved in November won’t be renegotiated and its integrity will be preserved. And thirdly, that the UK doesn’t take part in the forthcoming European elections.

A situation in which Mrs May isn’t able to give the European Council sufficient guarantees about the credibility of her strategy will therefore lead to the request for an extension being turned down and preference given to leaving without a deal./.

Brexit – Statement to the press by Mme Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, on her arrival at the General Affairs Council (excerpts)¹

Brussels, 19 March 2019

THE MINISTER – At the moment, Brexit is in deadlock; we’re waiting for a gesture, decision, proposal, strategy from London. This can come only from London.

Q. – Just before, Michael Roth [German Minister of State for Europe] said the clock is ticking and people are exhausted. Do you share this feeling?

THE MINISTER – Exhaustion isn’t part of politicians’ lives, but the clock is certainly ticking and what we’re waiting for is a decision. A decision from the British, telling us what they want, what they propose to end the deadlock in which they find themselves through their own decision. We’re showing goodwill, but we’ve also got other issues to deal with and we’ve got fellow citizens and businesses for which the uncertainty is intolerable. (…)

If the UK asks for a delay, we must be told why. There must be a credible initiative behind it, and for the time being we don’t know what it is. A short delay to finalize the ratification of the withdrawal agreement would obviously be granted. But we don’t even know whether this withdrawal agreement can presented again as it stands. It’s not for us to say, we aren’t lawyers in British parliamentary law. The best way of ending the deadlock is this withdrawal agreement; it protects everyone’s interests, it allows for a transition period. If the UK wants to rethink the future relationship, we’re ready to discuss this, but the initiative really needs to come from them. Delaying for the sake of delaying – it isn’t time that we need. (…)

Q. – Will you grant an extension if it is asked for or will President Macron insist on really strict conditions?

THE MINISTER – It is not a question of really strict conditions, we need an initiative, we need something new, because it is an extension to remain in the same deadlock where we are; how we get out of this deadlock? This is a question for the British authorities. They have to come with an initiative, a clear one, a purpose, credible and supported by a majority.

Q. – Without it, is France prepared to block an extension?

THE MINISTER – It’s a discussion we’ll have at 27, we are discussing it right now with a number of our partners, but as you know it’s a decision that has to be taken unanimously.(…)

Q. – How high is the possibility of a no deal?

THE MINISTER – It can very well happen, it’s not what we would like to happen but the best possible solution is already written in the 500 and some pages, it’s the withdrawal agreement. It grants us with a transition period to work on the future relationship. But we are ready for a no deal, we have prepared everything we had to, we passed a law, we passed decrees and it’s a choice to be made by the United Kingdom. They have said no to a no deal and they have said no to a realistic deal. They have to change their mind on one of the two options.

Q. – How would you describe the mood among your colleagues, are they fed up? Or are they willing to grant an extension?

THE MINISTER – Grant an extension, what for? It’s always the question. I mean, time is not a solution; it’s a method. (…) We need a decision, as I was saying, our businesses, our citizens have been living with uncertainty for quite a while, and we have to protect their interest.

Q. – And if there’s no decision from the British? If nothing is proposed, what’s France going to propose on Thursday?

THE MINISTER – It’s a choice, the British choose. If there’s no decision, the date of 29 March applies. And at that point, it’s no deal. No decision from the British means deciding no deal./.

¹ Mme Loiseau spoke in French and English.

Published on 29/03/2019

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