Monday 20 May 2019

'It is with great impatience that I will listen to May,' says fed-up Macron

‘Decisions’: France’s Emmanuel Macron. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman
‘Decisions’: France’s Emmanuel Macron. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman

Gordon Rayner

Emmanuel Macron was in no mood for compromise as UK Prime Minister Theresa May entered the lions' den that is the European Council.

"The British people have chosen to leave the European Union," the French president said before last night's session. "It is not up to us do everything to prevent it happening." In other words, Britain wanted Brexit, so Britain should have Brexit, without any further delay.

The French president's fellow leaders had arrived in Brussels ready to impose a nine-month Article 50 extension on Britain, but Mr Macron was talking the language of no-deal. "Nothing should be taken for granted," he said. "Nothing. And especially a long extension. Now is the time for decisions."

Just in case anyone was still in any doubt about how fed up he was with British dithering, Mr Macron bluntly told journalists: "It is with great impatience that I will listen to Theresa May."

Mr Macron, of course, knows that channelling Charles de Gaulle - who said "non" to Britain when it originally tried to join the European Community - goes down well with French audiences.

But his irritation with Britain's inability to ratify a Brexit deal - and his fear the UK will cause chaos if it stays beyond next month's European elections - is entirely genuine, hence none of the 28 leaders who took part in last night's talks regarded the outcome as a foregone conclusion.

Despite the earlier plea from Donald Tusk, the European Council President, to leaders not to "humiliate" Mrs May, her diminished status was clear in the official programme for the meeting, where she was listed as a "guest".

There was, at least, a brief moment of levity as German Chancellor Angela Merkel produced an iPad showing Mrs May pictures of the two of them wearing almost identical jackets in their respective parliaments earlier in the day, prompting laughter from the two women and Mr Tusk.

The smiles quickly slipped away, however, as the leaders took their seats and began the serious business of butting heads over Brexit.

Mrs May had started the day with questions about her future swirling around her in Westminster. Having previously told the UK parliament she would not be the prime minister to keep Britain in Europe beyond June 30, questions about whether she should quit if she accepted a longer extension dominated the day and appeared to divide her cabinet.

Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Minister, declined to say whether Mrs May should resign if she was forced to accept a longer extension.

David Gauke, the UK Justice Minister and a prominent Remainer, argued it may be her "duty" to stay on as prime minister for another year but admitted: "If it helps the country, she'll walk." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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