Eye on France: May's Brexit battering stuns Europe
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Europe in general and France in particular are in a state of shock following yesterday’s vote in the House of Commons to reject Theresa May’s proposals on the terms under which Great Britain will leave the European Union.
The problem is that a no-deal departure has everybody terrified, since it will be a step into uncharted territory. No country has ever before tried to leave the European trading bloc; taking such an unprecedented step without helmet, safety net, life jacket and a parachute is verging on the reckless.
Westminster is practically paralysed.
Europe is not even slightly amused.
There’s a certain amount of confusion about how Theresa May can lose such a crucial vote and still be given a fighting chance of winning today’s motion of no-confidence. That, it has ironically been suggested by more than one European commentator, is because losing a vote of confidence would bring down the conservative government, but losing the vote on Brexit will bring down only the country.
Merkel continues to wave her olive branch
The German chancellor Angela Merkel insists that there is still time to negotiate a new version of Theresa May’s departure plans. Merkel however also “deeply regretted” the decision by the British parliament to reject the original deal, which was, need we remind you, no great shakes.
So if May survives and returns to the table, it will be with a watered-down version of a dog-eared document that nobody liked in the first place. The clock will be ticking so loudly, no one will be able to hear a word she says. And what sort of deal could Europe accept that the rowdy yah-yahers in Westminster wouldn’t drive out with a stick. That’s hardly a bright prospect.
French bosses deeply worried
This morning the boss of the French bosses, Geofroy Roux of the MEDEF union, warned French businesses to “prepare for the worst”. According to M. Roux, a no-deal Brexit will mean “no transitional period, no time scale, no temporary exceptions”. He says that people, goods, services and cash will simply stop circulating between Europe and the UK on 29 March.
The French government is thinking along the same catastrophic lines. The president’s office has called for an intensification of planning for a no-deal deal. The Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has called in the principal ministers involved for a crisis meeting tomorrow.
Anybody got a miracle cure?
There is the possibility that the 29 March date could be pushed back, but Mrs May has never invoked such a possibility. And it still wouldn't put the fire out – even if she could get her fractious fellow parliamentarians in London to agree.
French President Emmanuel Macron says the onus is on the United Kingdom to sort out all the associated problems. The president also said he felt the original referendum in favour of departure had been manipulated, and that voters had been misinformed. Macron was, by the way, answering questions from French fishermen who are worried about their access to the North Sea and other shared fishing grounds if there’s no deal by the end of March.
Barnier grimly optimistic
The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, says we’ve never been closer to a no-deal departure. He insists that Europe is determined to remain lucid with a view to avoiding such an outcome. But you do get the feeling that he's whistling in the dark.
The unfortunate Irish are even more worried, since they’ll be the sole EU nation to share a common land border with a non-EU state in the event of Brexit. The government in Dublin is stepping up preparations for a scenario which could see the island once again divided by a physical border, as was the case during the tragic Troubles of the 70s and 80s.
So we’re now in the lamentable situation of knowing what the MPs in Westminster don’t want, leaving nobody with any idea what they do.
Watch this space!