British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has not floated any negotiable changes to the Brexit deal with E.U. officials in the two months since he came to power, according to French President Emmanuel Macron, who said he had heard only “a lot of noise without a lot of serious discussion.”
In an interview in the Elysée Palace on Monday, Macron told TIME that the U.K. had not suggested “any clear or concrete proposals” to E.U. negotiators, and that the E.U.’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who is French, had told him last Friday that he had conducted “very few discussions with British negotiators” since Johnson became Prime Minister on July 24.
“This deadlock is a British deadlock, it’s not a European deadlock,” the French President said, displaying clear irritation over the ongoing battles within the British parliament. “So if they propose something which is compliant with the E.U. requirements, our negotiator can move.”
British lawmakers voted on Sept. 4 to make leaving the E.U. without a deal illegal, despite widespread speculation that a so-called “no deal” Brexit is Johnson’s preferred option. Johnson insists publicly that he would prefer to leave with a good deal than without one. However he has also said Britain will leave on Oct. 31 “do or die.”
On Sept. 7 Amber Rudd, a member of Johnson’s cabinet, resigned, saying that she had seen no evidence that the U.K. government had offered new options to the E.U. to break the deadlock. “I no longer believe leaving with a deal is the Government’s main objective,” she wrote in her resignation letter.
But the vote to make “no deal” illegal means that Johnson might be forced to request another delay to Brexit in order to continue negotiations, which E.U. leaders including Macron would have to agree to at the European Council summit on Oct. 17-18.
On Sept. 8, Macron’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, suggested France might veto any extension to Brexit. Macron himself would not be drawn on that possibility but said Johnson could yet propose a workable deal to E.U. officials. “The important point is to have a U.K. that is fully engaged in the discussion with Europe,” he said. “Let us propose and let us see if it is acceptable.”
Deal or no deal, Europe’s top officials increasingly talk as though Brexit is in the past, and they are simply waiting for the dust to settle in London in order to sign the exit document. “Our position is not for the E.U. to be moving along the lines of British domestic politics,” one of Macron’s top aides told TIME last week, who spoke on condition he was not named. “You become crazy, because you cannot know what will happen this afternoon in parliament,” he said. “The Brexit crisis is mainly a British domestic crisis.”
However the French President suggested another still-possible scenario: That the U.K. cancels its decision to leave the E.U. by revoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty — the legal mechanism that triggered Brexit.
“They always have the possibility to withdraw Article 50; nobody should forget that,” the French leader told TIME. Given that exit route, he added, a no-deal Brexit would be “a British decision.”
TIME will publish the full interview with Macron in coming days.
— With reporting by Billy Perrigo/London
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