The EU should not “humiliate” Britain in Brexit negotiations, a French government spokesman said Monday (12 February), warning such an approach would strengthen anti-EU sentiment in the run-up to European elections next year.
“Our position is quite simple. There is no question of punishing anyone with regard to Brexit,” spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris.
Losing an EU member was “never good news and we should never humiliate or punish them”, Griveaux said.
“That’d the worst thing that could happen and I think it would reinforce the anti-European sentiment in many countries where we have elections coming up in a year,” he said, warning that eurosceptics could win a majority of seats in the European Parliament for the first time in 2019 elections.
Pro-Brexit British lawmakers last week reacted angrily to draft plans by the EU to sanction Britain if it breaks the rules of the post-Brexit transition period by curbing its access to the single market.
In its draft agreement for the March 2019-December 2020 transition phase, the EU said it should have the right “to suspend certain benefits” in terms of single market access in cases where Britain broke the transition rules but it would take too long to haul it before the European Court of Justice.
Senior Brexiteers in Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party lashed out at the plan, holding it up as proof that Brussels was bent on punishing Britain for its decision to leave – allegations dismissed by Brussels.
Griveaux said a punitive approach was “not the right strategy in the medium or long-term” but, echoing May, insisted that “Brexit means Brexit”.
“We have to be firm. Any cherrypicking (by Britain) whereby ‘we will exercise this freedom but not another’ is out of the question.”
Griveaux also urged unity in the face of any attempts by Britain to exploit differences between EU members to try to get a better deal.
“There cannot… be bilateral deals with different countries. The strength of the 27 is to have a single representative, Michel Barnier, who is negotiating for the 27,” he said.
“And I’d like to remind you that if only one country opposes (the final Brexit deal), there will be a rather hard Brexit,” he added.
French officials have repeatedly said that Paris’ main objective in Brexit negotiations was to maintain the unity of the 27 remaining countries and that the only point of contact for British diplomats should be the Commission’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
“There can’t be things that get dealt with totally bilaterally, otherwise it won’t work,” Griveaux said.
During a visit to Britain last month French President Emmanuel Macron spoke in favour of a special post-Brexit deal with the EU, which would go further than a regular trade agreement but fall short of full access to the single market.