Thursday 14 November 2019

Brexit border issue is 'done' and we've nothing more to give the UK, French minister warns

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire (Francois Mori/AP)
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire (Francois Mori/AP)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

The Irish border backstop issue is "done" and the European Union has "nothing to give" the UK on the Brexit deal apart from "clarifications", the French finance minister has warned.

Bruno Le Maire said it was up to Theresa May's government to find a way out of the situation it found itself in, not EU member states.

He told BBC Radio 4's 'Today' show that there would be "concrete consequences" of leaving without a deal.

Speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Le Maire said: "I'm afraid we have nothing to give.

"An agreement is an agreement and the responsibility of Brexit is clearly on the shoulders of the British government, not on the shoulders of the governments of the EU member states.

"It is up to the British government to find the right way out, not us, the European governments.

"If there is a need for any further clarifications, of course we are always open to clarifications.

"But reopening the deal would mean weeks, months, of new negotiations between the UK and the European member states, that is exactly what we want to avoid."

Philip Hammond giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee (PA)
Philip Hammond giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee (PA)

Asked whether it was possible to revisit the Irish backstop within the Withdrawal Agreement, Mr Le Maire added: "It is done. It is done and I think that we have to stick to the deal.

"I don't want to speculate on internal British policy because it is quite complicated and the UK is a sovereign country, but we don't have to speculate. It is up to the British Government to take its decisions now."

Asked about whether no-deal measures taken by the EU would be as bad as some groups have suggested, including border delays between Dover and Calais, Mr Le Maire said: "We are aware that a no-deal situation would have concrete consequences and would force us to take some decisions to reinforce the control at our borders.

"So, there are many concrete consequences that would be a consequence of a no-deal situation. But we are prepared to do that."

Asked to comment on reports that some EU states want rules to be relaxed in the event of a no-deal Brexit to allow UK lorries and aircraft to operate, he added: "You can't be out of the EU and getting all the benefits of the single market. That is a clear red line for France."

Meanwhile Chancellor Philip Hammond declined to rule out quitting if Theresa May decided to back a no-deal Brexit.

Asked repeatedly on 'Today' whether he would remain in the UK's top financial post in that scenario, he said: "I'm not going to speculate because a lot depends on the circumstances, what happens.

"The responsibility I have is to manage the economy in what is the best interests of the British people.

"I clearly do not believe that making a choice to leave without a deal would be a responsible thing to do, but I recognise that that is potentially a default that we could find ourselves in, and if we did find ourselves in that position then the responsible thing to do is to use every possible way of mitigating and minimising the impact."

Mr Hammond put some distance between himself and MPs including Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd - who has also declined to rule out quitting over no-deal - over the importance of Tuesday's Brexit vote.

"What Amber is doing is reflecting a view among some of my colleagues that somehow next Tuesday is high noon, the last chance to make a stand against no-deal.

Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament on January 15, 2019 in London, England
(Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament on January 15, 2019 in London, England (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

"I don't think that is the case, I don't think next Tuesday has to be, or indeed will be the high noon of this debate.

"Parliament will want to be confident that it will have an opportunity to express its clear view and some of my colleagues, including some who are in Government, will want to be able to express their view.

"But I don't think next Tuesday is the point when this comes to a head."

Damage

Mr Hammond showed the depth of the row inside the Cabinet over a no-deal Brexit, doubling down on his warnings about the damage it would cause to the economy.

He said: "What people were told in the referendum campaign, the majority who voted to leave, they were told that we would be able to get a deal with the European Union, that that would protect our jobs and our prosperity and that our exit could be smooth and orderly to a new relationship with the European Union.

"But it is absolutely clear that if we don't get a deal that is not the way it will work.

"There will be very significant disruption in the short term and a very significant hit to our economy in the medium to long term.

"Our job is to deliver the British people what they believe they were promised in that referendum, to make sure we respect the decision of the referendum but do it in a way that gives them the future prosperity they were promised."

Mr Hammond added: "The ... disruption that we would expect would happen around the no-deal exit will be short term.

"It will settle down, we will find ways of managing things like the additional time it takes for trucks to get through the border.

"But it might take us quite a while to sort that out. So there will be a short-term impact through disruption, there will be a long-term impact through a reduction in the size of our economy.

"That is not what people voted for. People did not vote to be worse off, they voted to be better off and they were told that was possible and it is our job to try to deliver on that for them."

Mr Hammond warned "I don't believe the European Union is simply going to remove the backstop", but added that, while some hardline Brexiteers demanded this, others took a more nuanced approach.

Red Lines

He added: "What I hear from European politicians and commentators that I have talked to here in Davos is that there is a process going on, of thinking very hard about where the EU had drawn its red lines, whether they really need to be in the place where they have been drawn."

Mr Hammond praised the queen after she spoke at an event in Sandringham about seeking "common ground" and "never losing sight of the bigger picture" in words interpreted as a reference to Brexit.

The Chancellor told 'Today': "I think there is huge wisdom in those words and I don't think anybody will be at all surprised to hear the Queen advocating the view that in all things controversial we should seek compromise, we should seek common ground and we should seek a way forward.

"That is actually what we do in this country, that is how we solve problems, by compromise and pragmatism.

"It's been our enormous strength over centuries that we have been able to find compromises that bring the nation together."

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