Minister talks of retaliatory measures against UK if Brexit deal isn’t implemented
European affairs – United Kingdom/Brexit – Interview given by M. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to BFM Business (excerpts)
Paris, 27 April 2021
Q. – Here you’ve got clear proof that it [the UK] doesn’t respect everything. On the Irish chapter, indeed it should be reiterated that the agreement provided for Northern Ireland to remain in the European market, meaning customs and health checks would be restored. Yet the British have announced they’re delaying certain checks on goods arriving from Britain until 1 October.
THE MINISTER – You’ve actually got two issues. You’ve got the fact that the UK decided – we had the so-called transition period – to extend it, without asking us what we thought. That goes against the agreement and we began legal proceedings which may lead to a form of sanction or retaliation against the UK precisely in order to enforce the agreement itself. We shall be uncompromising on this. There are negotiations, but if necessary we’ll put retaliatory measures in place against the UK.
Q. – Does the renewed Unionist violence observed in Northern Ireland, around Belfast, worry you?
THE MINISTER – Yes, absolutely. That’s the other issue, the fundamental issue. It’s the most serious one. But the UK can’t say to us: listen, I’m not implementing a protocol or checks because there are tensions and violence which, admittedly, are very dangerous and risky. The truth needs to be spoken and political responsibilities shouldered, those of Mr Johnson and the UK. This is the consequence of Brexit. It’s because of Brexit that there are checks. It’s because of Brexit that there’s a border. I regret this and we knew from the outset that one of the issues was the threats it was posing to stability, indeed peace in Ireland. This mustn’t be treated lightly, nor should Europe engage in any kind of provocation. Everyone must shoulder their responsibilities. It’s because of Brexit that there are checks. It’s because of Brexit that there’s a border and there are risks of tensions which will be managed, but while respecting the commitments made. It’s the UK which has got to shoulder its responsibilities.
Q. – And now we have this flare-up of violence – the like of which hasn’t been seen since 1999, since the 1999 agreements – by kids, young minors who didn’t live through that period.
THE MINISTER – Yes, because what people have also forgotten is that peace in Ireland in 1998 was enabled by Europe. It’s because there was the single currency, the single market, that we were able to abolish the border – no customs checks, etc. –, and this had political repercussions, it enabled people to move around and tensions to be calmed. This renewed tension today is the consequence of the referendum and the Brexit decision. I regret it, but everyone must accept it, too.
Q. – And also Boris Johnson, who isn’t honouring his commitments on the Irish side. In terms of the fishermen, basically it’s about the licences which have to be allocated to European and particularly French fishermen and which are finally trickling in. Is that what it’s about?
THE MINISTER – Absolutely.
Q. – And indeed it’s starting to provoke reactions around Boulogne-sur-Mer in particular.
THE MINISTER – Yesterday I was there with the Minister of Marine Affairs for the fourth time, so that we could honour our commitments. And I said that we’ll show no weakness towards the UK, which must grant those licences, i.e. authorization to access its waters for fishing. That’s the agreement. We’re asking for the whole agreement, nothing but the agreement. And we’ll continue until it’s implemented, and again, we’ll also take retaliatory measures in other sectors if necessary.
Q. – But over what timescale? What retaliatory measures? You say: we’ll take retaliatory measures…
THE MINISTER – I’ll give you a very concrete example. The UK is expecting a number of authorizations on financial services from us. We won’t give any until we have guarantees that the UK is honouring its commitments on fisheries and other issues. It’s give and take. We’re looking for cooperation, we have a good agreement, but each side must honour its commitments, otherwise we’ll be as harsh and difficult as necessary, as partners. (…)./.