Official speeches and statements - January 9, 2019
1. United Kingdom - European Union - Brexit - Statement by Mme Nathalie Loiseau, Minister of European Affairs, on her arrival at the General Affairs Council - excerpts (Brussels - January 8, 2019)
The minister - Brexit isn’t really on the agenda today, but, even so, it’s important; the vote takes place next week.
There are many rumors about what may or may not happen, whether extensions will be given, whether concessions will be made - what do you make of all this?
The minister - I’d like both to reassure our British friends and reassure French people. Reassure our British friends by telling them that the agreement subject to ratification by the Commons is a good agreement, the only one possible. It allows for an orderly withdrawal, it doesn’t decide on the details of the future relationship in advance. And when it provides for a backstop for Ireland, it’s a last-resort solution which no one favors, no one wants to have to use the backstop, and if they did need to, no one would want to remain in it. So no one wants to tie the United Kingdom into the Irish backstop. This is why we very much hope the agreement can be ratified; it’s one in which the Europeans have made concessions, the British too.
I’d also like to reassure French people and tell them that whatever the outcome, we’ll be ready, whether as regards the implementation of the withdrawal agreement, or if there had to be a separation with no deal, which we don’t want - we’re prepared for it - and we’ll protect the interests of French people, French businesses and Britons living in France.
Are there currently discussions between the European Union and the British, as some press reports are saying this morning, to put back the leaving date?
The minister - Mrs May spoke to President Macron last week. She talked about the Irish backstop again and about the British people’s need for assurances, but she didn’t talk about anything else.
Is it possible to specify a cut-off date for the potential use of the backstop?
The minister - The principle of the backstop is that it is used only if we don’t manage to agree on the future relationship, and until we reach agreement. So it’s a last-resort solution, but it can’t be considered a temporary solution from the outset. It’s a solution we don’t want but which can’t be time limited. (...)
But is there a new way you could prove to British Members of Parliament that you don’t want to use the backstop? Is there a new way of proving that?
The minister - We have said it repeatedly, the President said it at the end of the previous European Council, and indeed we all want to have a fruitful, profitable relationship with the United Kingdom in the future. So, the backstop is just the last-resort solution.
So there’s no new assurances coming?
The minister - These are political assurances but there is nothing more that we can do. The withdrawal agreement is indeed a good agreement both for the UK and for the European Union: we should stick to it.
Would you be in favor of an extension of the Article 50 period if you’re asked?
The minister - I don’t work on hypotheses. The current situation is complex enough, it has not been asked [for] by the British authorities. So, no Â“if and when", let’s stick to where we are now and we really need to have a ratification of the withdrawal agreement. This is the best solution for both parties.
They might not have asked but have they raised the concept with you?
The minister - They have not yet, this is why I’m not working on hypothesis.
A quick question about the fate of the migrants currently at sea; there are discussions between member states about taking them in. I believe France wishes to participate...
The minister - Yes, France has of course made proposals, as it has every time humanitarian gestures have been required, to assist people who have been shipwrecked. So we’ve made proposals. Other countries have too. The Commission will ensure coordination. My feeling yesterday evening was that we’re nearly there. I hope we manage it today because it’s long overdue.
Even so, the situation recurs regularly; what are you calling for?
The minister - We’re calling for a long-term solution, of course. The distribution [of migrants across member states] must be carried out on a permanent, long-term basis. Let me remind you that last summer this wasn’t an issue; the reception and also distribution [of migrants] happened under satisfactory conditions. We absolutely must go back to the idea of a permanent solution for these types of humanitarian cases. (...)