Emmanuel Macron accuses Brexiters of bluffing over no-deal divorce

  21 October 2017    Read: 614
Emmanuel Macron accuses Brexiters of bluffing over no-deal divorce

Emmanuel Macron has accused Brexiters of seeking to “bluff” the EU into softening its negotiating stance by championing a no-deal scenario, the Guardian reports.

In a dramatic intervention at a summit of European leaders in Brussels, the French president said such an outcome was “in no case” part of the discussions, in an apparent reference to reports that the Brexit secretary, David Davis, was planning to positively present a plan to the UK cabinet for Britain to strike out of the EU without a deal.

“There is one negotiator on the British side under the political authority of Theresa May,” Macron said. “At no moment has Theresa May ever raised a ‘no deal’ as an option.

“If there are noises, bluff, false information by secondary actors or spectators to this discussion, that is … just life in these matters, or in the media. But in no case is it part of the discussions.”

In response to the comments, Davis told broadcasters: “We don’t want a ‘no deal,’ but if one comes, we’ll be ready for it.”

The clash came at the end of a summit at which the EU leaders agreed in just 90 seconds that insufficient progress had been made on the opening issues of citizens rights, the Irish border and the most thorny matter – the financial settlement – to allow trade talks with the British government to begin.

Member states will instead discuss trade between themselves, in the hope that advances are made on the other issues before a summit on 14 December.

Earlier, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, talked up May’s efforts in the negotiations and suggested a deal was in sight.

The president of the European council, Donald Tusk, also sought to shield May from criticism at home. He offered an olive branch to the British government by promising the EU would take account of UK proposals on future ties as it talks internally about the future.

Tusk, who chairs EU leaders’ summits, said he wanted to be a “positive motivator” to get Brexit talks moving on to trade negotiations from December.

“My impression is that the reports of the deadlock between the EU and the UK have been exaggerated,” Tusk told reporters . “While progress is not sufficient, it doesn’t mean there is no progress at all.”

Tusk said he wanted to “reassure our British friends that in our internal work we will take account of proposals presented by them”.

The British government has published a series of position papers on the UK’s ambitions for the divorce and future relationship, including future customs arrangements, security and foreign policy. But the EU has so far refused to discuss any of them until the divorce is settled.

Macron, however, ripped up the script during a bullish press conference, which saw him insist that there was no question of the EU softening its demands to help May avoid political problems at home.

The French president became the first leader to put a big number on the divorce bill when he dismissed May’s offer in her recent speech in Florence of €20bn, saying that amount is not even half of what is owed. “It’s not about making concessions,” Macron said. “I would say we are far from having reached the necessary financial commitments before we can open phase two [of the talks]. We are not halfway there.”

The Guardian understands that Brussels has now settled on €60bn as the expected landing zone for any deal, less than some estimates but considerably more than many members of the British cabinet are likely to stomach.

Macron said the costs of Brexit were unavoidable and the UK would need to make a “substantial effort” to break the deadlock over the talks.

May was in political trouble at home, the French president suggested, due to the failure of those who had championed leaving the EU to spell out the dangers. “The problem for Mrs May is that those who pleaded in favour of Brexit never explained to the British people what the consequences would be,” he said.

Earlier on Friday, May said the UK was examining “line by line” how much it should pay the EU when it leaves the union. She did not deny she had told EU leaders on Thursday night that her Florence speech was “not the final word” on what Britain was willing to pay as a financial settlement for Brexit.

Asked whether it was conceivable that the total bill could reach €60bn, she did not dismiss the sum out of hand, However, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, has previously said Brussels can “go whistle” for such an amount.

May said: “I’ve been very clear on where we are in relation to the financial settlement. I’ve set out the reassurance to our European colleagues and we will go through that line by line in relation to the commitments that we’ve made in our membership.

“And I’ve also said in the past, if there are particular programmes where we wish to continue to be a member then of course we would look at paying relevant costs in relation to that, programmes such as science and research, and perhaps some of the justice issues.”

In their formal conclusions, the EU27 said they aimed to move to the second phase of negotiations “as soon as possible” and would reassess the state of progress at the next summit beginning on 14 December. But they noted that Britain had so far made no “firm and concrete commitment” to settle all of its obligations.

Merkel said a breakthrough in December “depends to a large extent” on the UK: “The topic of financial commitments is the dominating issue in that regard,” she said.

The Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said detail on the UK’s bill had still to be worked out. “There wasn’t anything new on the financial solution. That’s still ongoing,” he said. “Prime minister May has indicated that no European state should have to pay more or receive less than would have been the case had they not been leaving, that they would honour their existing commitments.”

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, was asked if he agreed with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, who repeatedly claimed at the end of the last round of talks that the negotiations were in deadlock. “In my rhetoric, I would have used the word deadlock four times, not only three times,” Juncker said.

Standing alongside Tusk, Juncker also rebuffed May’s plea for help in selling a Brexit deal to the British public. “I would think that Mrs May has all the strength she needs to have the British people understanding what we are achieving as a final result.”

Juncker criticised the “superficiality” of the British press, as well as UK politicians talking up a no-deal Brexit. “When some in the UK are pleading the cause of no deal, no one explains what that will mean. We need a British way of carrying out collective education because nobody explained in detail to British people what Brexit meant.”

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