France says 'no' to Brexit extension

Foreign Affairs Minister Yves Le Drian said France was opposed to another Brexit extension

France’s foreign affairs minister said yesterday that ‘as things stand, it’s no’ – when asked about the possibility of Brexit being delayed again.

“We’re not going to keep starting again every three months.

“Let them take responsibility for their situation. They must tell us what they want,” Yves Le Drian said speaking on Le Grand Rendez-Vous programme on Europe 1 in partnership with CNews and Les Echos.

UK government officials say that in discussions behind the scenes they have made suggestions for a solution to the impasse which would involve Northern Ireland remaining in alignment with EU rules governing food and agricultural products, referred to as a ‘common agri-food area’ pending other long-term solutions being agreed upon.

However the EU is widely reported as not being convinced that the idea would suffice to replace the controversial Northern Ireland backstop clause in the negotiated Brexit deal. Furthermore the UK has not yet made the ‘agri-food area’ proposal formally.

According to The Guardian, EU sources claim meetings last week between UK government and EU officials have  been ‘a disaster’.

Connexion asked the European Commission if it could confirm reports that the EU is still open to proposals from the UK for tweaks to the Brexit deal but there has been zero progress in terms of proposals from the UK.

It’s chief spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told Connexion: “Indeed, we are still waiting for concrete proposals from the UK.”

The ‘backstop’ refers to arrangements to keep the UK in closer alignment with EU rules until there are workable ‘alternative’ solutions, such as new technologies, to avoid a ‘hard’ border being necessary between Ireland and Northern Ireland for checks to take place on whether goods meet EU standards, and for import taxes to be collected.

A hard border is ruled out in the Good Friday Agreement, which has been the basis for peace in Northern Ireland since 1998.

It was agreed in the ‘deal’ that efforts would continue during a transition period until the end of 2020 to find a solution avoiding the need for backstop arrangements coming into play.

It is agreed that nothing would change during the transition period and the EU has also previously stated that it is open to the possibility of considering extending the period, at the latest for two further years to the end of 2022, if the UK asked for it.

In fact a solution involving only Northern Ireland remaining in a closer alignment with the EU (until alternatives were ready) – an island of Ireland only solution – was the EU’s original proposal (however the plans went further than just ‘agri-food’ regulations), but then UK Prime Minister Theresa May told EU leaders this would not be acceptable to the British MPs.

In particular Northern Ireland’s DUP party with whom Mrs May made an alliance after being left without a majority in the snap election in 2018, is opposed to Northern Ireland being treated differently.

The British parliament has now passed new legislation aimed at ruling out the UK leaving with no deal on October 31; it will go for royal assent, to become law, today.

This says that the UK Parliament must either agree to a deal, or explicitly agree to no-deal, by October 19 at the latest. This date is the Saturday after a two-day EU leaders’ summit on October 17-18, which would be the last natural point for the leaders to agree to any UK proposals on the backstop.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he would not ask for an extension and would “rather be dead in a ditch”, however some of the MPs, including former Conservatives expelled from the party for voting in favour of the law blocking no-deal, are preparing legal action in case of the prime minister refusing to act.

They have assembled a legal team and say they are willing to go to court to enforce the law to avoid no-deal if necessary.

Note however that it is probably not possible for the UK to absolutely rule out no-deal unilaterally unless it cancels article 50 (withdraws its request to leave the EU). In the EU's view, it would fall out of the EU by default if the EU does not agree an extension or Brexit is not cancelled. Some lawyers disagree, arguing that the British MPs must assent to it formally for a no-deal Brexit to take place. 

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