The British government must offer a “clear” answer on its intentions for Brexit before the EU summit next week, the French presidency said Friday after UK lawmakers voted to seek a delay if no withdrawal deal is reached soon.
“Without any clarity, no solution is possible,” President Emmanuel Macron’s office said, adding that if the current withdrawal deal is rejected, a “clear and new alternative plan” must be presented or else Britain will have to leave the EU with no deal.
The summit next week is seen as the last chance for Prime Minister Theresa May to secure unanimous approval from the other 27 EU members for any Brexit delay.
May is expected to again submit the withdrawal deal to lawmakers next week, though it has already been rejected twice.
“That’s the best option,” the French presidency said, in which case no EU state is expected to oppose a “technical extension” that would give Britain time to vote on a series of laws for ensuring a smooth Brexit.
But if the deal is again rejected, any request for a short delay would be “pointless” and as a result probably rejected by the EU, it said.
Only a longer delay request that puts “something new on the table: a referendum, an election, some other deal” would be likely to gain EU approval, Macron’s office said.
“It’s not up to EU countries to say what that is, but the United Kingdom,” it said.
The comments dovetailed with those from Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who was in Paris on Friday.
“We’ve always said in Ireland, if the UK asks for more time, for one to prevent no deal, a crash-out Brexit happening, but secondly to implement a clear plan and strategy to reflect on and perhaps change direction in regard to Brexit, well then Ireland certainly wouldn’t be an obstacle to that,” Coveney told a conference.
The deal May struck with the EU has remained deadlocked in the British parliament, chiefly by disagreement over the so-called Irish “backstop” — a measure to keep trade flowing and avoid barriers at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Coveney was to hold talks later Friday with France’s Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau.
Ahead of the meeting he thanked France for its solidarity” with Ireland on the border issue, seen by Ireland as key to avoiding a return to violence in Northern Ireland.
“Many people see peace in Northern Ireland as something that was negotiated and agreed two decades ago, assuming it is done and we can move on. The truth is that peace needs to be worked for every week and every day,” he said.