President welcomes British PM to Paris to discuss G7 and Brexit
United Kingdom – Joint statement by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, and Mr Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – Remarks by M. Emmanuel Macron
Paris, 22 August 2019
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Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’m pleased to welcome the Prime Minister, cher Boris Johnson, to Paris today and delighted about this first visit to France since you took office. We had the opportunity to talk on the telephone a few hours after you took on your new responsibilities and I’m very pleased we’re able to have the opportunity to talk at greater length today.
I want to begin by saying how essential and immutable I think the relationship between our two countries is, no matter when, or what the circumstances. This is especially true as regards foreign policy and defence, and I see your decision to come to Paris too as embodying the need to maintain this special relationship. The relationship has a very deep-rooted history, it also has treaties which link us and go beyond the European Union framework, and it has very deep commitments vis-à-vis several current crises we’ve got to manage together, and when it comes to issues such as Iran, the Sahel, tackling climate change, and girls’ education, our countries have been involved together constantly and in an essential way. And with the G7 getting under way in a few days’ time, our meeting will also allow us to ensure close coordination on these issues.
We shall also, of course, be discussing Brexit. And you know my position on this, it’s clear, and I know how much it’s taking up your days and nights, Prime Minister. First of all, my position has always been to respect the British people’s sovereign choice to leave the European Union. I regret it. If I’d been voting I wouldn’t have voted that way, but I think the sovereignty of peoples is what democracies are built on, so I fully respect that choice and I think it has to be implemented. Secondly, my position consists in protecting and strengthening the European project, the single market and our ability to take decisions and build a stronger, more sovereign European Union, and that’s why I’ve always taken a stand against any weakening of the project in the negotiations and in the way we’ve got to organize things. And finally, it’s about safeguarding and deepening the bilateral relationship, anchored in history and forward-looking. It’s in this spirit that the European Union negotiated a withdrawal agreement at length with the UK. I won’t go into the details of that agreement here, and it isn’t up to any EU country alone to negotiate or renegotiate that agreement. But I want to say that its key elements, such as the Irish backstop, aren’t just technical constraints or legal quibbles, but guarantees which are vital for preserving stability in Ireland and the integrity of the single market – which is the cornerstone of the European Union – and are an integral part of this agreement negotiated at length by the UK and the EU. Moreover, the EU has always indicated its willingness, according to the UK’s wishes, to discuss our future relationship, which is basically what’s essential and shapes our common future. The Prime Minister and I shall be discussing all this in a few moments, I’d simply like to say to the UK, as a friend and ally, that it’s up to the UK alone to choose its destiny, the way it leaves the EU and the basis of the future relationship it wants to build with Europe. For our part, we’re actively preparing for every scenario, particularly a no-deal exit on 31 October, if that’s ultimately the scenario. It isn’t the European Union’s choice, but it’s our shared responsibility towards our citizens, our countries and our businesses to be ready for it. And that’s what we’ve already prepared for. But at any rate, I know that the UK’s future, based on our history and values, can lie only in Europe; there’s no getting away from our geography in that respect. And I know, and I say confidently that this will be borne out in the future, notwithstanding the potential jolts and the ups and downs of current events.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s what I wanted to say in a few words, whilst reiterating what a great pleasure it is to welcome Mr Boris Johnson today; Prime Minister, what a pleasure it is for us to have you at the Elysée today.
I think we’re going to take two questions.
Q. – What does leaving without a deal actually mean? Does it mean trading on WTO rules for the long term or is it effectively back to square one with more negotiations? And in that sense, isn’t no deal a bit of a con? And [secondly], Angela Merkel showed some flexibility in Berlin last night over the question of changing the Irish backstop. Don’t you think you should cut the new British prime minister a bit of slack as well?
THE PRESIDENT – On the questions you asked, as I said very clearly in my introductory remarks, the so-called Irish backstop is an element which was negotiated as part of the process, given Ireland’s geographical realities and past political situations. So it’s an important element which allows us to guarantee stability in Ireland on the one hand, and the integrity of the single market on the other. These are the two objectives which must be pursued. When we talk about flexibility, I just want to be very clear with you: these two objectives must be met. And so we’ve got to find the solution which allows us to ensure the integrity of the single market, that we’re going to be able to guarantee to European businesses, consumers and citizens that the rules, the freedoms of the EU are ensured, and that those entering a market no longer in the EU are subject to those rules and checks at a particular place. And the other thing is that there are balances; there are, as we know, past agreements – the Good Friday Agreement –, there are realities linked to Ireland’s political situation, and also the relationship between your country and Ireland, and I think we’ve got to respect what has been negotiated on this point, and afterwards, in the framework of what has been negotiated, work should be possible. Secondly, regarding your first question, I’d just like to draw your attention to one point: we’re talking about the withdrawal agreement, there will be a negotiation too on the future relationship, which is another stage, but we’ve always done things clearly and in the right order.
Q. – Are you in agreement with the German Chancellor that an alternative to the backstop can be found in 30 days? (…)
THE PRESIDENT – As Chancellor Merkel said yesterday, and this reflects the spirit of the discussions we’ve had from the outset, we need to see something in 30 days’ time. And so I’ve just given an answer about the reality of the backstop, I think – and this, moreover, reflects Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s goal; no one is going to wait until 31 October and not try to come up with a good solution. Quite simply, if we don’t come up with good solutions, we can’t suddenly resolve things overnight, so we’ve got to try and have a useful month – this useful month is obviously going to mobilize Michel Barnier, his team of negotiators and the negotiators on the British side, to come up with something which can address sticking points, but without changing the underlying balances of the withdrawal agreement, because it’s the result of an extremely significant amount of work and a unanimous decision by the 27. On this point, like Chancellor Merkel, I’m also confident that collective brainpower, our desire to build should allow us to come up with something intelligent in the next 30 days if there’s goodwill on both sides, and that’s what I’d like to believe. You know, I’ve always been portrayed as the toughest in the gang – I say this for Prime Minister Johnson. But I’ve always said very clearly that a choice was made, so there’s no point in trying not to implement that choice, thinking that [because] it’s going to take a very long time, in the end we won’t implement what the British people decided at one point, or we’ll try and bypass things. I think our democracies suffer from a lack of efficiency and a lack of clarity. So I’m rather – and this is what I’ve supported in the past, in the spring – pleased we’re coming up with clear deadlines and a desire to get things done in time. Now I’m going to be very clear here: in the next month, we’re not going to come up with a new, radically different withdrawal agreement. If there are things which, as part of what was negotiated by Michel Barnier, can be adapted and are in keeping with the two objectives I’ve just mentioned – stability in Ireland and the integrity of the single market – we should identify them in the coming months. Otherwise, it means that the issue runs deeper, is more political and that it’s a British political issue, in which case it isn’t something the negotiation will resolve, it’s a political choice the British Prime Minister will have to make, not us./.