Speaking at the closure of a European summit on Friday (20 October), French President Emmanuel Macron stressed the “unity” of EU leaders on Brexit, saying there were “no concessions to be made” to Britain at this stage.
Noting the “openings showed by Theresa May” in her recent public speeches, notably in Florence, Macron said the 27 EU leaders had “confirmed” their will to open a second phase of talks – “in due time”.
But the French President insisted that “an important effort in financial terms” still needs to be made on the UK side on the so-called divorce bill, estimated at around €60bn.
“Today I would say we are far from having reached the financial commitments necessary to launch phase two” of the negotiation related to the UK’s future ties with the EU, Macron told journalists after the summit.
“We are not halfway through yet,” Macron replied when pressed to elaborate on the amount of the Brexit divorce bill, after reports emerged end of September that May was preparing a €20bn offer to break the deadlock on Brexit talks.
‘No concessions to be made at this stage’
British Prime Minister Theresa May had entered the summit hoping to get assurances regarding the opening of a second phase of negotiations where future EU-UK ties could be considered.
For now, Brexit negotiations have been stuck in phase one, which focuses on the withdrawal terms, and includes the three outstanding issues – the Brexit ‘divorce bill’, citizens’ rights and the border with Ireland.
In Brussels, the 27 EU leaders issued a statement where they “welcomed progress” in those areas and invited negotiators to pursue talks “in order to be able to move to the second phase of the negotiations as soon as possible”. They will assess progress at the next EU summit in December.
Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council who chairs EU leaders meetings, went as far as saying that reports of a “deadlock” in Brexit talks have been “exaggerated”.
But the progress was unanimously recognised as insufficient to open the next phase of talks.
Speaking after the summit on Friday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said she had spoken to EU counterparts about her vision for a new, deep and special partnership after Brexit but admitted, “We still have some way to go.”
“While there are a small number of issues that remain outstanding on citizens’ rights, I am confident that we are in touching distance of a deal,” May said.
Pressure has built on EU leaders to make a gesture to May, who is facing a rebellion from within her own Conservative Party where Brexit hardliners are plotting to oust her.
But Macron brushed aside those demands for now, saying: “There are no concessions to be made at this stage” of the negotiation, which focuses on the divorce settlement.
“We are not going to make concessions in kind in response to speeches,” the French President elaborated.
‘Noise, bluff and false information’
“Opening phase two assumes that we solve the three issues in phase one. And so this is something which, for the most past, today is in the hands of Theresa May,” Macron continued, adding there were issues left on all three aspects of the UK’s withdrawal settlement.
Macron was dismissive about the possibility of a no-deal scenario, which some in the UK have brandished as a threat in the negotiation. A no-deal was “never” been mentioned by the British Prime Minister, Macron said, adding such threats were merely “noise, bluff, and false information” coming from “spectators and secondary actors” of the negotiation in the UK.
“I think Theresa May’s problem today is that those who supported Brexit have never explained to the British people what the consequences were.”