We’re seeking a Brexit agreement, but not at any cost - Minister
European Union – Statement by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, on her arrival at the General Affairs Council (excerpts)
Luxembourg, 15 October 2019
THE MINISTER – Good morning. We’ve got a meeting today which is going to start with a discussion about Article 50, so with Michel Barnier, to take stock of what’s happening on Brexit. We know that specific, technical negotiations are currently taking place and so we’ll repeat the 27’s position of unity, to ensure that in the coming days, as the dates and deadlines draw near, we’re firm about our principles: ensure peace in Ireland, ensure that the internal market is protected and that the future relationship will be a balanced relationship.
Q. – Are you more or less optimistic?
THE MINISTER – You know, I don’t think it’s a question of being optimistic or not. We’ve got to adopt an extremely responsible approach because behind the challenge of Brexit lie millions of jobs, millions of families. There are some very everyday issues. So we’ve also got to reassure millions of businesses. So for me it isn’t about being optimistic or pessimistic, it’s about adopting an extremely responsible, very calm approach. I don’t think we should give in to a sort of general panic because of the approaching deadlines; rather, we’ve got to have a substantive discussion with Michel Barnier so he can explain to us what’s being discussed.
Q. – If an agreement is not possible this week, what is the French attitude to an extension?
THE MINISTER – We’ve always said, for several months now, that time alone probably isn’t a solution. On the other hand, if a broad political change were to occur in the UK, it could potentially justify talking about an extension, if we were asked for one. A broad political change means the prospect of an election, a referendum. In short, something which changes the political dynamic so that basically the triangle between government, Parliament and the British people can be a bit more aligned. It’s a British decision first of all, it’s a matter for the British – it isn’t up to a French minister or European ministers to propose solutions, but clearly time alone won’t resolve the complex challenges. (…)
Q. – Do you think the Brexit deal is achievable?
THE MINISTER – You know, we’ve been working for an agreement for three years. It’s what the British would like, it’s what the European Union would like. My position today is that obviously we’re seeking an agreement, but we’re not seeking an agreement at any price. We’ve laid down three very simple principles. First of all, to ensure that peace in Ireland is protected. Secondly, to ensure that the internal market doesn’t allow any unfair competition in future because one country doesn’t establish necessary controls, particularly regulatory controls. And the third point is that the future relationship – because there will be a future relationship, the UK will always be 50 kilometres from Calais, the Channel Tunnel won’t get any longer – should be a fair and balanced relationship. Some people talk about a level playing field. We say: in the future we must, of course, not interfere with British standards, but the moment there are exports of goods or services, those exports must be carried out on a balanced basis. So is an agreement possible? Of course. We’ve had an agreement.
Q. – But it isn’t possible before the end of October?
THE MINISTER – But Theresa May and Michel Barnier reached an agreement with their governments. So of course an agreement is possible. Is a new agreement possible? I hope so, because it’s in everyone’s interest for this exit to take place in an organized way. So that’s the discussion we’ll be having with Michel Barnier. And then I’m also a realist. We’ve laid down some principles, so an agreement is possible; it must be a good agreement, an agreement that is mutually balanced. And so that’s what we’re working on. Thank you. (…)./.