18 Jan 2018

Brexit talks: May and Macron do lunch

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

When Theresa May was drafting her Lancaster House speech on Brexit, definitively ruling out membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union, she and her advisers gamed the Europe she would be dealing with.

President Francois Fillon would’ve won the French Presidential election, her aides confidently predicted, bringing an Anglophile and his Welsh wife to the Elysee. Chancellor Merkel would still be in her pomp, the advisers assumed. The EU would be unnerved by Brexit but might be stewarded towards a compromise deal by Germany.

Instead, President Macron jumped out from nowhere to win the Presidency and invigorate the EU cause. His is the voice people refer to in Brussels. Angela Merkel is struggling to form a coalition and even if she stays in office it’s hard to see how her influence is anything other than diminished.

Today’s summit has been worked on by officials putting together a package of what they call “deliverables” for the two leaders to announce at their press conferences. That should give them time to touch on Brexit while they’re in their bilateral.

One Cabinet Minister said the French are indisputably the most formidable challenge to Britain in the Brexit negotiations. The minister said there were strong suspicions that Paris was keen to stretch out the negotiations over a transition phase to prolong uncertainty for UK businesses pondering a move to Paris.

One other theme you repeatedly hear on the transition is how many EU capitals are convinced that the UK is going to need a status quo transition that lasts long after the end of 2020 (the current working notion of an end date). But EU officials say extending the transition is too controversial a topic to introduce into Britain’s fragile political state, and not something the EU27 particularly want to complicate their lives with at the moment either. If it is needed later it can be negotiated then, the rationale runs, and the EU27 will have more leverage in that conversation because the UK needs would be that much more pressing.

The skies opened and thunder could be heard as Mrs May and President Macron went into Sandhurst to begin their talks and a rainbow was visible in the sky. Any bilateral chat is more likely to be about the emerging UK Phase 2 position: a regulatory alignment approach, as outlined in this Institute for Government document, much thumbed in Brussels in recent week.

Lunch beforehand was at a Michelin-starred pub in Theresa May’s constituency. The Royal Oak has a Masterchef winner as chef and is owned by TV star Michael Parkinson. President Macron chatted to French staff working there and then tweeted out the video.

Tweets by @garygibbonblog

One reader comment

  1. H Statton says:

    [written 19th January 2018]

    I thought the summer of love was 1967…

    French president Emmanuel Macron today offered a hand of friendship to the UK to re-examine its position on Brexit amid fears it will inflict economic damage both sides of the Channel.

    Macron assured France would “look with kindness” on any future decision made by Britain to remain in the EU and it would not be left in the wilderness of economic and financial distress, never mind a quiet voice on the international stage (Macron once said Brexit is “a crime” of meeting with Theresa May, and does not believe the decision to leave the EU is irreversible).

    Even Jean-Claude Juncker, known for his colourful remarks lowered the drawer bridge to allow Britain to stay in the union or to even re-join it swiftly after leaving, quoting article 49. Juncker called Brexit a “lose-lose situation” for Britain and the EU and a “catastrophe”.

    “If Brexit goes ahead, the obvious result, as Macron recognises, is that France and Germany will be thrown closer together. That remains true even if [Angela] Merkel leaves office” — the Social Democrats in Germany are even more supportive of the Macron stance on EU integration than Merkel is. But of course the best option is for Britain to stay in the EU. President Macron will make it clear to the Prime Minister that this outcome remains open.”

    Germany is adopting a more aggressive stance with future UK relations. British-French collaboration, when it comes to working and diplomacy, defence and intelligence, is of secondary concern. Germany’s interests are predominantly to protect its economy.

    But Germany has its own political concerns to deal with at the moment as Merkel tries to form a grand coalition; the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) is quite vocal in opposing power sharing power with The Christian Democratic Union (CDU). This faction of the SPD hopes to see itself becoming the official opposition in the Bundestag.

    Donald Tusk told MEPs in Strasbourg: “If the UK Government sticks to its decision to leave, Brexit will become a reality – with all its negative consequences – in March next year unless there is a change of heart among our British friends.

    He added the EU had not had a “change of heart” over Brexit, telling the British: “Our hearts are still open to you.”

    “Wasn’t it David Davis himself who said ‘if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy’?”

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