Brexit: Theresa May warned Emmanuel Macron unlikely to 'soften' France's stance ahead of key talks

Ex-ambassador says ministers must stop no-deal threats as EU aware of lack of planning

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 02 August 2018 15:11
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France will not soften Brexit stance, former ambassador Peter Ricketts warns

Theresa May should not expect Emmanuel Macron to ”soften” his stance towards Brexit as she gears up for talks at his holiday retreat, a former ambassador to France has warned.

Lord Peter Ricketts urged ministers against brandishing threats of a no-deal exit from the bloc, as the EU knows that warnings of walking away without an agreement with Brussels are “a bluff”.

His comments came after Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, told French and German leaders to intervene to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU, as he warned the prospect of no deal was “increasing by the day”.

Later, an Elysee Palace offical said the meeting between Ms May and Mr Macron is “not a negotiation”, and would not substitute for a discussion with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, and whom has Mr Macron’s “full trust”.

The prime minister has cut short her holiday in the Italian Lakes to meet with the French president on Friday at his retreat, Fort Bregancon, on the French Riviera, while her senior ministers have been attempting to woo European leaders through a series of high-level visits.

Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, is due to hold talks in Paris today ahead of a meeting with UK and French leaders.

Lord Ricketts told the Today programme: “I would have said let’s not go out and brief everyone that Theresa May is going to France to try and get Macron to soften the French position. I don’t see why there is any chance of that.

“First of all he doesn’t believe in softening it, he is a passionate pro-European. Secondly he’s the last person to want to break ranks from what has been quite an impressively disciplined EU side.”

Britain has got to accept it must do the “hard yards of negotiating in Brussels” rather than taking their charm offensive to European leaders who are not going to “break ranks”, Lord Ricketts said.

The senior diplomat, who acted as ambassador to France from 2012 to 2016, said: “I still don’t understand why the new foreign secretary is going around brandishing this threat of no deal as if it’s going to make the European countries more likely to soften their position on this.”

He added: “The problem with no deal is these crafty foreigners also read our own media and they can see how little preparation has been done. It’s a bluff and I don’t think it’s going to work.”

French politician Bruno Bonnell, a member of President Macron’s En Marche party, said Mr Hunt was “playing a dangerous game” with his no-deal warnings, which are ramping up the tensions with the French.

He said: “This position of threatening for no deal for me is not the best way to seduce or to open the door for the possibilities of deals.”

The prime minister and her top team were rebuffed by senior EU figures for trying to go directly to European leaders to end the deadlock and arrange a more favourable deal for the UK.

Speculation over the threat of a no-deal Brexit has also ramped up, after Mr Barnier, rejected a key part of Ms May’s new Brexit plan, which has also received the cold shoulder from Brexiteers.

Ministers have also been forced to concede there are emergency plans to stockpile medicines, food and blood products to prepare for a no-deal scenario.

It comes as pro-EU campaigners raised the alarm of the prospect of a “blind Brexit” amid reports that Mr Barnier will offer Britain a warmly-worded but vague declaration that lacks specific details.

Labour MP Chris Leslie, who backs the People’s Vote campaign, said: “A blind Brexit would take the UK to the same place as a no-deal Brexit without the clarity.

“In fact, many Brextremists are happy to go with it because they think it will lead straight to the outcome they’ve always wanted – and all they have to do is pull the plug on the Irish backstop after exit day.

“The idea that the fundamental contradictions of the government’s Brexit policy can be more easily resolved after the UK has left the EU is simply ludicrous.

“The UK would be walking to the end of gang plank, blindfolded, only to turn around at the end and try to talk tough; it would be the weakest negotiating position in history.”

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