Brexit: Macron says France ‘will never abandon Ireland’
French president says EU cannot be held as a hostage to ongoing UK political crisis
French president Emmanuel Macron has said the European Union “cannot be a hostage” to Brexit and warned that an extension of the Brexit deadline beyond April 12th “is not automatic”.
Mr Macron’s tone was more strident than Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s when they met at the Élysée Palace in Paris on Tuesday to prepare for the April 10th meeting of the European Council.
“Our priority must be the smooth functioning of the EU and of the single market,” Mr Macron said. “The EU cannot be the long-term hostage of the political crisis in the UK… We cannot spend the coming months resolving the modalities of our divorce and settling the past.”
Mr Macron expressed “the unity and solidarity of the 27 EU countries” with Ireland.
“I fully measure the extraordinary difficulty that this situation creates for Ireland,” he added. “We will never abandon Ireland and the Irish, no matter what happens. This solidarity is the very meaning of the European project.”
Both leaders noted that as things stand, the UK is scheduled to leave the EU without an agreement on April 12th.
The Taoiseach’s entourage said media have overplayed the idea that Ireland is under pressure to begin preparations for Border checks in the event of a no-deal Brexit. There is talk in Brussels of “de-dramatised” checks that would take place away from the Border.
Mr Varadkar said he was the one who brought the question of Border checks up with Mr Macron. He stressed Ireland’s commitment to the Belfast Agreement and to the preservation of the single market and customs union in equal measure.
“You should never forget that it is in our interest to protect the single market and the customs union,” Mr Varadkar said. “In the unlikely event we have no deal and the UK were to do trade deals with the US or China and we had chlorinated chicken or hormone beef...the last thing we would want is that coming south of the Border into the Republic of Ireland, and we certainly wouldn’t want it getting through the Republic of Ireland into the EU...
‘A real difficulty’
“But we want to make sure that doesn’t involve any physical infrastructure between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and that’s a real difficulty,” the Taoiseach continued.
“Some things we know can be done electronically, like the collection of taxes and tariffs. Other things we know can’t. Physical inspections, animal inspections have to be done somewhere. And the backstop proposes that they be done at the ports, the ports in Northern Ireland. That is the right and best place for them.”
The French president sounded irritated when he said: “If the UK is not capable, nearly three years after the referendum, of proposing a solution which has the support of a majority, it will have de facto chosen a no-deal Brexit. We cannot avoid failure for them.”
Though Macron and Varadkar spoke of their similar predicaments as the UK’s two closest neighbours, Mr Macron appeared more reluctant to grant the UK an extension to when it leaves the EU.
“There is nothing obvious or automatic about a long extension, which would imply UK participation in European elections and in EU institutions. I repeat that forcefully,” Mr Macron said.
Mr Varadkar also cautioned that an extension could not be a “recipe for further indecision”. Any request “would have to have a purpose and there would have to be conditions attached”.