France has accused Boris Johnson’s government of seeking to manipulate the Brexit process by negotiating a series of unacceptable “mini-deals” with individual EU member states instead of dealing with the EU collectively.
Amélie de Montchalin, the French minister for Europe, said the British were trying to organise bilateral meetings “to organise what they call a ‘managed no-deal’”.
“What the British are looking to do is to take the rather special relationship they have with each member state and see if they can recreate it before the moment of divorce, of separation, thanks to these mini-deals,” she told a news conference after meeting the 26 ambassadors to France of the EU’s members. The British ambassador was excluded.
“It’s totally contrary to the spirit in which we are negotiating,” Ms de Montchalin said.
She reiterated the French position that Britain could only be granted an extension for Brexit beyond the current October 31 deadline if the UK government requested such an extension and if conditions were changing sufficiently — because of a UK election, for example — to allow the other 27 EU members to consider a further delay. Extra time for the sake of extra time was not acceptable, she said.
France now says a no-deal Brexit is the likeliest outcome and is seeking to prepare its citizens and its companies for the likely disruption.
The first rehearsal for the use of an automated customs system — in which transporters will seek advance electronic clearance for their trucks and freight through customs — will be held in the Normandy ferry port of Ouistreham near Caen on Thursday.
“The idea is really to be as ready as possible for a no-deal Brexit,” said Olivier Dussopt, the junior budget minister. France has hired an extra 600 customs officers, and is now training 100 more, principally for Calais and the Channel tunnel.