French leaders outline Brexit contingency measures

European Union – Brexit – Communiqué issued by the Prime Minister’s Office

Paris, 9 September 2019

On 9 September 2019, the Prime Minister once again convened the relevant ministers to prepare for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

The European Union and the United Kingdom spent two years negotiating a withdrawal agreement, the best one possible for protecting European citizens from the consequences of Brexit.

Whilst France would like to avoid a no-deal exit on 31 October 2019, it is preparing for every scenario in close cooperation with its European partners and the European Commission.

Since April 2018, the government and administrations have been working on the implementation of a national contingency plan, which the Prime Minister launched on 17 January 2019.

In this framework, Parliament empowered the government, by a law promulgated on 19 January 2019, to legislate by ordinance in priority areas so as to ensure legal certainty and the elements of continuity which are absolutely necessary for French and British nationals and businesses. The French government has therefore acquired a legal arsenal, which led to the adoption, between January and April 2019, of seven ordinances, eight decrees and several orders.

Infrastructure managers (ports, stations, airports) have carried out the necessary adjustments and work to ensure that border checks are operational from the date of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. Additional staff have also been assigned to perform customs (600 customs officers), health and phytosanitary (200 veterinary experts) checks at the borders. The system is therefore now in place. It will undergo real-world testing in the coming weeks.

The Prime Minister has asked ministries to step up communication and information drives for citizens and businesses, to encourage economic operators and individuals to intensify their preparations for a no-deal withdrawal. A website, www.brexit.gouv.fr, which has been operational since 1 December 2018, provides answers to questions from French citizens settled in the United Kingdom, British citizens settled in France and businesses trading with the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister would like the ministries to be in a position to respond quickly to all queries raised by businesses and individuals. In October, the Ministry of the Interior will launch an online registration platform for residence permit applications for British nationals living in France.

The Prime Minister has also asked the relevant ministries and the state services to ensure permanent, close consultation with local elected representatives and economic players on the ground. He has appointed M. Michel Lalande, Prefect of Hauts-de-France region, Prefect of Nord Defence and Security Zone, and Prefect of Nord department, as national coordinator for preparation at local level for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.

Finally, the fisheries sector requires close European coordination. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food will therefore continue working with the European Commission and relevant member states at a coordination meeting in Brussels on 16 September 2019 and the Council of Fisheries Ministers on 14 October 2019.

A no-deal exit would entail some level of disruption to the current relationship with the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister has asked all ministers to remain mobilized on the issue and maintain the unity of the 27 European Union member states, until the United Kingdom has clarified its position./.

European Union – European Commission/Brexit – Interview given by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to France Info (excerpts)

Paris, 11 September 2019

(…)

Q. – Amélie de Montchalin, on the issue of Brexit, today you’re bringing together the 26 other European ambassadors from the EU, i.e. excluding the UK. What are you going to say to them? Watch out for bumps?

THE MINISTER – (…) There’s now a huge challenge; you can’t gamble with people and you can’t gamble with our businesses. That was the Prime Minister’s message on Monday morning when he convened all of us, ministers. So we absolutely must organize ourselves to do two things: protect and ensure the stability of British families in France and French and other European families in the UK. We think this is essential; you can’t gamble with people’s lives...

Q. – If Brexit takes place textbook-style at midnight on 31 October 2019, what happens to British citizens in France?

THE MINISTER – British citizens need to carry out a very simple procedure; they’ve got to say they’re here, and then we’ll give them permission – and we’re giving ourselves enough time so that no one is jeopardized or put in an uncertain situation and they’re given a long-term residence permit. This is what we’ve planned for in the event of a no-deal exit. (…)

But why are we bringing together the ambassadors? Because we’ve also got an issue regarding businesses, SMEs, and as you know, in Calais, Gérald Darmanin, customs and port services have got organized so that we can ensure, let’s say, some organization and some kind of fluidity. It probably won’t be as effective as before, it’s difficult to do things as effectively as the European Union in terms of fluidity. (…)

Q. – What will companies have to do? Will they have to register?

THE MINISTER – What we’re actually trying to do is have what’s called the smart border, which means that many of the procedures we carried out a few decades ago at the border will take place beforehand. So you register the type of goods, submit the papers so that there’s traceability, and as a result, customs officers – when they recognize a lorry’s number plate – will know whether that lorry and everything in it has been pre-cleared, in which case it can pass easily, and if this isn’t the case, it will have to be stopped.

Q. – And if this isn’t the case, in Calais in a few weeks’ time we’ll have the biggest traffic jam in Europe....

THE MINISTER – That’s why the key point of today’s meeting, and thus the message I have for the ambassadors, is to begin by saying that we must be very clear about citizens, and so that’s what we in France have done to ensure that we’re well organized, that all 27 convey the same message and, secondly, as regards companies, economic flows, we need to tell them that we in Calais are able to do many things, we’ve organized ourselves, we’ve invested, we’ve got a whole range of logistics ready, customs officers...

Q. – Help us…

THE MINISTER – We’ve got 700 more customs officers. But if you don’t help us, we won’t be able to resolve things ourselves, and this will have a negative effect for us, French – because we’ll have the traffic problem –, but also for businesses in your countries, because transport times will be much longer as a result.

Q. – And what are you telling people? You mentioned 31 October, which falls during school holidays. What are you telling French citizens either about moving or simply going on holiday to the UK? Are you telling them to postpone their holidays, to...

THE MINISTER – The British government has been very clear to any Europeans wanting to visit the UK: there’s no change. It’s perfectly OK to go to any country for less than three months – this is, moreover, often the rule...

Q. – Visas won’t be reintroduced, that’s very clear...

THE MINISTER – Visas won’t be reintroduced. Secondly, indeed, there are questions being raised when it comes to people wanting to stay more than three months for reasons other than tourism. To date – and this is also worrying us – a number of British preparations aren’t ready...

Q. – Haven’t you got an answer from the British government today?

THE MINISTER – Christophe Castaner had a meeting with his counterpart to try and clarify as well, because, as you know, France manages the border on its soil with the British...

Q. – That’s the Le Touquet agreement, which puts the British border here in France....

THE MINISTER – It’s the Touquet agreement; that’s why there are British customs officers and border police at the Gare du Nord and in Calais. This hasn’t been clearly understood. It still hasn’t been clearly understood....

Q. – It isn’t clearly understood whether it will still be in place after Brexit.

THE MINISTER – Yes, it will; the Le Touquet agreement...

Q. – It’s still in place.

THE MINISTER – At things stand, it’s a bilateral agreement; there’s no reason for it to be changed. But we haven’t fully understood the procedures the British want people to carry out who would like to go to the UK for more than three months. Nor was it very clear what they’d done in their own ports to ensure fluidity. So we’ve still got a lot of questions. (…)

Q. – In other words, today, 11 September, we’re currently technically unready for Brexit.

THE MINISTER – Not us. We in France have got the logistics, the customs officers, the veterinary services, we’ve got the whole procedure and we’re talking to the Europeans about it so they can help us.

Q. – All that’s needed now is a date.

THE MINISTER – There’s still a huge amount of questions as regards what’s happening on the other side of the Channel, what’s happening in the UK.

Q. – So we need a new deadline. They need to be granted a new deadline.

THE MINISTER – But they’ve got to shoulder their responsibilities. They’ve got to tell us what they want. Today we know they don’t want Theresa May’s agreement. They don’t want to be in the European Union, they don’t want no deal, and they’re asking us for time.

Q. – But 31 October is basically tomorrow, and you’re clearly saying that the British aren’t ready. There are many unknowns, as you’ve just explained. So perhaps it would be more reasonable, wiser, to grant them a new deadline, as requested by Boris Johnson’s opponents.

THE MINISTER – There’s a very dangerous slope you’re taking me down, in that it isn’t my place to make Britain’s choices. It’s a sovereign choice, there was a referendum, they have a debate, they have ministers, they have a Parliament...

Q. – But would France be ready, as part of a vote, obviously – all this is perhaps going to be decided at the next European summit –, is France ready to grant a new deadline if our English, British friends ask for one?

THE MINISTER – For starters, they need to ask for one. I don’t get the impression their Prime Minister or government want to.

Q. – Not yet, no.

THE MINISTER – This is also a British politics problem. And the second thing is, have the conditions changed to say that three more months would change the problem? President Macron is saying something very clearly. He’s saying: if the conditions don’t change, a difficult problem won’t become less difficult if it’s spread over longer periods of time. (…)

Q. – Is Boris Johnson a good Prime Minister?

THE MINISTER – We have a rule, namely that we work with all prime ministers, and we have another rule that we respect the legitimacy given by the European Union. You know, at European Councils, people always think these are big meetings with lots of people. There are relatively few people; there are 28 around the table, they close the door and their country’s legitimacy is there, at the table. Boris Johnson has inherited a very complicated situation today.

Q. – Which he helped create a little bit, too.

THE MINISTER – Yes, but from the outset... You know, when we held referendums in France we put a text on the table. And we said: are you for or against the text? The problem is that the British didn’t say yes or no to a text, they didn’t say yes or no to an agreement, they said yes or no to a concept. And today, between the popular will to leave the European Union and how this can be done, we’re clearly seeing a huge amount of difficulties. That’s why we need the British to tell us what they want.

Q. – When you hear him say, as he did a few days ago, that he’d rather die in a ditch than go to Brussels to negotiate, do you think you can still talk to the man?

THE MINISTER – You know, in diplomacy...

Q. – You talk only to your opponents, that’s the rule.

THE MINISTER – I’m not a diplomat by profession, but in a few months I’ve learned one rule: it’s always better to talk to everyone and more than anything it’s better to have strong relationships. As you know, my British counterpart and I talk to each other, we text each other, we call each other a lot. (…) Our role is to ensure dialogue. (…)

Q. – (…) Boris Johnson, as we know, doesn’t want a further extension, but if there were to be a change in the British political situation – a new government, and one which asks for a further extension, then Europe might listen to it. And might France, in any case, listen to it?

THE MINISTER – You’ve summed up the situation very well. If things change, we’ll look at...

Q. – If the Prime Minister changes?

THE MINISTER – If things change politically, if we see there’s a way out, if a path emerges, if a majority is formed around something – for roughly a year now, we’ve been revolving around the fact that there’s no majority. Thirty percent of Parliament wants to leave, no matter what. A third of Parliament wants to leave with what they call a soft deal, a deal which makes it possible to keep the essentials at the heart of the economic relationship. And then there’s 30% of Parliament which is saying: we mustn’t leave at all.

Q. – And all this doesn’t make a majority.

THE MINISTER – And that doesn’t make a majority. So if a political way forward really does open up in the UK so that we can understand what the majority is and how, as a result, a prime minister could achieve this majority, then Michel Barnier, the Commission and the member states may think differently.

But what you’re saying is very true, that it’s a British sovereign choice. You know, I spend my days defending the rule of law, the fact that we want regimes that are legitimate, that are based on the most honest, open and transparent elections possible, and that judicial systems aren’t arbitrary. Who would I be this morning if I told you, “the British should do this or that”? That’s called interference and spells the end of European democracy. So if we care about the foundations of Europe, well, all peoples are sovereign – moreover, this is a message for sovereignists, who are always saying that Europe interferes in national affairs. If there’s one affair in which we don’t interfere, it’s this one. (…)./.

Foreign policy – Brexit – Interview given by M. Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to BFM Business (excerpts)

Paris, 10 September 2019

(…)

Q. – It feels like there’s real confusion in Britain, with Boris Johnson saying he doesn’t want another Brexit extension, and then MPs rejecting the call for another general election. We’re at complete deadlock, and some – especially in Brussels – are starting to say that a new Brexit extension will have to be accepted. We know France was very opposed – led by Emmanuel Macron, of course. What’s France’s position in the event of this?

THE MINISTER – Well, the London fog is indeed getting thicker, and given this, at any rate, we’re preparing for every scenario; above all, France is ready so that on 31 October we’ll be well prepared if Brexit happens. We’ve recruited 600 customs officers, 200 vets…

Q. – Have they been recruited, because we’ve been hearing this for a long time?

THE MINISTER – Oh they have, that’s it, they’re operational, and so it’s important because French companies do a lot of business with the UK, it’s our…

Q. – French companies aren’t very ready, despite…

THE MINISTER – Well, we’re continuing to support them; there was a meeting last week with Agnès Pannier-Runacher and Amélie de Montchalin, so we’re going to go on individually contacting, calling the 20,000 companies exporting to the UK because it’s indeed essential for them to have all the new procedures. So we’re ready, and we’re ready for every eventuality.

Q. – And about the extension, are you willing to agree to another one? Is France, the French government, willing?

THE MINISTER – But an extension can’t be a plan in itself. We’ve seen this, there’s already been an extension. Has it fundamentally changed things? No. Boris Johnson said he had ideas; we’re currently waiting to see them. So I think that for the moment – Jean-Yves Le Drian said this to your colleagues on Sunday as well – France isn’t entertaining the idea of a delay.

Q. – Yes, but at the same time we’re seeing the idea gaining ground in Brussels that we’ve got to get clear of the London fog, to use your phrase.

THE MINISTER – As you know, there was a vote, a vote by the people…

Q. – Could this be done without France?

THE MINISTER – No, it’s done unanimously, so it can’t be done without France. The British people voted; I think, in that context, where populists are on the rise throughout Europe, that not implementing what was voted on doesn’t do European democracies as a whole any favours.

Q. – Parliament is due to reconvene on 14 October, i.e. 15 days before the deadline. If things are completely deadlocked, the European Union will have to act, it has to do something!

THE MINISTER – The European Union has acted, it negotiated, an agreement was reached, this agreement commits the British government, it commits the UK – I mean, Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary when the agreement was being negotiated, so you can’t just break away from all the rules you’ve subscribed to like that. So there comes a point when you’ve got to respect the ground rules. (…)./.

Foreign policy/Brexit – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Europe 1’s “Le Grand Rendez-vous” (excerpts)

Paris, 8 September 2019

(…)

Q. – On Brexit, we’re approaching the 31 October deadline; it was set, indeed called for by Emmanuel Macron during a European Council. Yet the British Parliament and the House of Lords have voted for a law imposing a delay on Brexit until after 31 October in the event of no deal. Is France willing, yes or no, to accept this delay?

THE MINISTER – The situation in Britain is really very disturbing, because actually on the substance, if we don’t follow what’s happened in the past three years, there’s a sort of conflict of legitimacy between the people, who, in the referendum three years ago, said “we want to leave” – it wasn’t our position, we regret this position, but the British people cast their vote –, and Parliament, also the expression of the people, which doesn’t know how to leave and for three years has been trying to see how the British people’s decision can be respected, but can’t find a way.

Q. – And on the timetable?

THE MINISTER – Nor on the timetable, because today in the British Parliament there’s no majority for anything. There’s no majority for the withdrawal agreement. There’s no majority for calling an election. There no majority for a “no-deal”. There’s no majority for anything. So there’s an impasse.

Q. – What must be done? What can Boris Johnson do?

THE MINISTER – You need to ask him. There’s an impasse and the British people must tell us what they want. We aren’t going to take the place of the British. It’s up to the British to tell us, “this is what we want”. We didn’t want them to leave the European Union. They decided to do so. Tell us, dear British friends, how you want to do this so we can help you do it. But for the time being, we don’t know what they want to do because there’s no majority on any of the options. So there’s an impasse…

Q. – And if the date were put back?

THE MINISTER – There’s an impasse today which is leading to risks concerning the UK, because Scotland is talking about possible independence over this. So the British need to take charge of their situation.

Q. – But if they tell us they want to put back the date of 31 October, what’s the reply? Do we agree or not?

THE MINISTER – As things stand it’s “no”, because they’re saying they want to propose other, alternative solutions, alternative arrangements to ensure the withdrawal and ensure no deal. We haven’t seen these, so it’s “no”, we aren’t going to start all over again every three months. The British Parliament, the British authorities need to tell us the path to be taken. (…)./.

Published on 23/09/2019

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