September 20, 2018
French president says EU should resist prime minister’s calls for compromise on Brexit
Macron urges EU leaders to stand firm against Theresa May
Emmanuel Macron has appealed to his fellow European leaders to maintain their tough approach to Brexit in response to Theresa May’s demand for compromise and accusations that the French president wants to make Britain suffer.
Macron, who is fighting a rearguard action against the rise of populism in Europe, said blocking any attempt by the UK to pick and choose elements of EU membership had to be the priority in the dying days of the Brexit negotiations.
“May spoke last night,” Macron said of the UK prime minister’s presentation to the leaders in Salzburg. “My first wish is to stay united and to have a common approach, the 27. It is essential. The second thing is that we remain coherent. The solution must be found. The third thing is that we need to have a real retirement agreement by November.”
A number of fellow EU leaders have conceded that compromise from both sides is needed to reach a deal both on avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and on the future framework of a trade deal.
The nationalist prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, who has sparred with Macron over migration, told reporters he was getting close to building a majority of member states in opposition to “a camp of prime ministers” who believe the “British must suffer”. “I don’t like that approach at all,” he said.
Over coffee at the end of a dinner that finished after midnight, May insisted the UK had moved its position and it was the turn of Brussels to reciprocate.
Trying to strike a tough tone the prime minister told her counterparts “that the UK will leave on 29 March next year” and as a result “the onus is now on all of us to get this deal done” by the end of an emergency summit that the EU confirmed would happen in mid-November.
May met the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, over breakfast in the morning, as the two leaders held further talks over how to resolve the Irish border question and what customs arrangements would be necessary after Brexit.
Both sides reiterated the need to agree on some form of backstop if it did not prove possible to reach agreement on a future trading relationship, although there remain considerable differences between UK and EU approaches. The meeting between the two leaders is understood to have been amicable.
However, there is a consensus among the 27 member states that the central planks of May’s Chequers plan on trade are not workable, but with the encouragement of Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, some have suggested the EU should seek to bridge the gap with fresh proposals.
Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian prime minister, said: “You know that, as before, the approaches are very different. But to report something positive, inside the room, away from the hard media statements outside, I think both sides are aware that they will only reach a solution if they move towards each other.”
Xavier Bettel, the prime minister of Luxembourg, told reporters as he arrived at a summit that he believed “compromise from both sides, not from one side” was necessary. But when asked why the EU had not budged, he added: “We have some colleagues around the table who think the same about Theresa May.”
The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, whose country is an advocate for offering May a counter-proposal in the coming weeks, said that avoiding cherry-picking by the British while keeping them close and avoiding a no-deal scenario was a difficult balancing act.
The EU is aware of the domestic dangers facing May as she approaches the Conservative party conference and beyond. The usually outspoken European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said of May’s brief speech: “It was interesting, it was polite, it was not aggressive. She is doing her job.”
Earlier, the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, said he would like to see Britain hold a second referendum on membership of the EU – even though May pointedly told EU leaders that one was not on the table.
May specifically ruled out a second vote in her comments at dinner. But Babis told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We hope that finally we will reach a deal but I am very unhappy that the UK is leaving, so it would be better maybe to make another referendum and maybe the people in the meantime could change their view.
“Europe has a lot of problems. We have problems with Mr Trump about tariffs, sanctions with Russia, Brexit, migration and so on. For Europe, it’s quite a difficult time. We were shocked when the referendum was announced that there were so many people practically unhappy. Even the chief of commission didn’t understand.”
Babiš said a second referendum would “solve the problem quite quickly”, but he also said there would “hopefully” be a deal.
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