Britain calls on France and Germany to force ‘sensible’ Brexit deal
Jeremy Hunt appeals over heads of Brussels negotiators to avoid ‘no deal by accident’
British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Paris on Tuesday. Photograph: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images
Britain’s foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has appealed over the heads of Brussels negotiators directly to France and Germany to try to force the European Commission to strike a “sensible and pragmatic” Brexit deal.
Ahead of talks with his opposite number in Paris, Mr Hunt accused Brussels of waiting for Britain “to blink” in negotiations as he claimed the chances of the UK leaving the EU without a deal were “increasing by the day”.
“That is just a profound misunderstanding of us as a nation,” he said. “There is a real chance of no deal by accident. Everyone is assuming, no, no, no, this will never happen. Well, actually, it could.”
Mr Hunt’s warning came as the Élysée Palace announced that British prime minister Theresa May will join French president Emmanuel Macron at his summer home, Fort de Brégançon, in the south of France on Friday when her holiday in the Italian lakes comes to an end.
Ms May’s office confirmed that the pre-planned visit would include talks on the prime minister’s Chequers deal but that the pair would then be joined by Philip May and the president’s wife, Brigitte Macron, for a private dinner.
In an interview before his trip to France, Mr Hunt warned the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, that his approach to the negotiations would inflict a “breakdown in relations and trust” between Britain and the continent which would be a “profound geo-strategic mistake”.
He told the Evening Standard: “The probability of no deal is increasing by the day until we see a change of approach from the European Commission who have this view that they just need to wait and Britain will blink ...
“France and Germany have to send a strong signal to the commission that we need to negotiate a pragmatic and sensible outcome that protects jobs on both sides of the Channel because for every job lost in the UK, there will be jobs lost in Europe as well if Brexit goes wrong.”
However, Brussels insiders have repeatedly pointed out that Mr Barnier and his Brussels negotiating team are only acting on the orders of France, Germany and the rest of the 27 EU countries. Any inflexibility originates from the nation states.
France has taunted the UK by offering to roll out the red carpet to British-based financial firms after Brexit, but Mr Hunt said a no-deal Brexit would be an economic “tragedy” for both countries.
“If it became harder for European businesses to access finance, that is far from trivial,” he said, alluding to the flow of money from the City of London, which could become more difficult to access if there was no agreement.
“The City itself would find a way to thrive, whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. If it became a low-tax, low-regulation offshoot fully outside the EU, it would find a way to thrive in those circumstances. But for European businesses the impact would be profound,” Mr Hunt said. – Guardian