Emmanuel Macron has said he is “open” to granting a long Brexit delay if the UK wants to use the time to hold a general election or a second referendum, or work out new red lines.
Speaking ahead of a meeting with Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar in Paris, the French president said the approval of another extension would be “far from evident and is certainly not for granted” if the UK requested one.
“Should the United Kingdom be unable, three years after the referendum, to propose a solution backed by a majority, they de facto will have chosen by themselves to leave without a deal,” Mr Macron told reporters.
“We cannot avoid failure for them. Should this plan be new elections, a referendum or different selection to the future relationship such as a customs union, it’s not for me to say – but we are open to it.”
His comments confirm a report by The Independent at the weekend revealing that the three scenarios were being considered by EU leaders as reasonable justifications for an extension to Article 50.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, this morning laid out similar conditions to an audience in Brussels.
Speaking in Brussels the morning after MPs yet again rejected a slate of compromise Brexit options, the EU chief negotiator had said a no-deal “becomes day after day more likely”.
He said: “The UK may ask for another extension. Such an extension would carry significant risks for the EU. Therefore a strong justification would be needed.”
Mr Barnier confirmed that the EU would accommodate any move by MPs to try and soften Brexit, stating that deals like the “Norway option” or a customs union had always been on the table.
The Commons narrowly rejected a customs union by just three votes on Monday evening, and Norway-style single market membership by 21 votes. A plan for a Final Say referendum was rejected by a 12-vote margin.
The Irish prime minister travelled to Paris on Tuesday in a bid to discuss the possibility of an extension with Mr Macron. Ireland is keen to avoid no deal because it would be hardest-hit by the return of a hard border and disruption to trade through the UK.
Mr Varadkar told reporters: “I think we need to be open to any proposals that she [Theresa May] may bring forward to us.
“We’ll need to consider how we may respond to any UK request for the extension. We want to avoid a rolling extension so any extension must have a clear purpose and a clear plan.”
EU leaders are due to meet in Brussels next week to decide a way forward for the UK, which will crash out of the EU on 12 April if it does not secure an extension, pass a deal or cancel Brexit.
Because any extension to the negotiating period has to be agreed unanimously by EU leaders, every last one must be convinced – with Emmanuel Macron often portrayed as the most sceptical.
Theresa May has yet to ask for another extension and previously suggested she would not be open to one, but the prime minister is expected to come under parliamentary pressure from MPs this week to seek another one.
Though the Paris talks are focused on Brexit, both leaders said they would also discuss other issues.
“It’s very much the case that the UK at the moment is consumed by Brexit, but Ireland, France and the European Union shouldn’t be consumed by Brexit,” Mr Varadkar said.
Mr Macron added: “We have a future to build together within the European Union, a new relationship to build within the United Kingdom. They will remain a friend, a key ally – but we will cannot spend the coming months to sort out yet again the terms of our divorce and to deal with the past.”
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