British Prime Minister Theresa May heads to President Emmanuel Macron’s “summer Elysee Palace” on the Mediterranean coast on Friday, seeking to soften resistance to a Brexit plan which has divided her government while failing to win over sceptical EU negotiators.
She and Macron will hold an “informal” two-hour meeting at Bregancon, a 17th-century fort long favoured by French presidents as a summer retreat.
“The plan was to go to Bregancon, which is to be a summer residence but also a place for working, and since May was finishing her vacation in Italy we proposed hosting her here,” a source said.
May is going to lay out “London’s position on the Brexit talks and its future relations with the EU,” the source said. “It will be the occasion to clarify this proposal and discuss the political context.”
There will be no press statement afterwards, because “there is absolutely no intention to speak in place of Michel Barnier,” the EU’s designated Brexit negotiator, the source added.
Pressure is growing on May to win allies on the continent after her “Chequers plan” prompted two senior ministers to resign in protest last month.
The prime minister has just a few months before an agreement on Britain’s divorce from the EU – set for March 29, 2019 – must be forged, in principle, ahead of a European summit in mid-October.
Barnier has already shot down May’s proposed solution to keep the border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland open without a ‘hard border’.
Under May’s proposal, a dual system of taxation would be introduced which would see taxes levied by each side of the Irish border for the benefit of the other.
European leaders have steadfastly voiced support for Barnier, who wrote in a piece published in French and German newspapers Thursday that Britain and the EU “are 80% in agreement on an exit deal.”
“But 80% is not 100%,” he warned. “Let’s be frank, the United Kingdom, having decided to leave the single market, cannot be as economically close as the rest of the EU.”
France is seen as taking a particularly hard line in the Brexit negotiations, especially on financial services, with Paris already expecting to get about 3,500 new banking jobs as leading players might move some operations out of London.
Companies in other sectors have also warned they consider to move operations out of Britain, which could prove a boon for economies on the continent.
Barnier has maintained that any Brexit accord “must conform with the economic interests of the 27 remaining EU members, and the president has always supported this as well,” the source in Macron’s office said.
But Macron also wants to avoid a “messy divorce”, which Britain’s foreign minister Jeremy Hunt has warned will happen in case of a ‘no-deal exit’.
“France and Germany have to send a strong signal to the Commission that we need to negotiate a pragmatic and sensible outcome that protects jobs on both sides of the Channel,” Hunt said in a British press interview before visiting Paris and Vienna this week.
The British charm offensive continued Thursday (2 August) when Brexit minister Dominic Raab said he held “constructive” talks with France’s Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau in Paris, saying they had discussed “the progress of negotiations with Michel Barnier.”