‘We have always said, always, that the door would remain open,’ says European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau
Britain could still cancel Brexit and stay in the European Union on the same terms it currently enjoys, the French government has said.
Nathalie Loiseau, the country’s European affairs minister, said on Thursday France and other member states still did not want Britain to leave the bloc.
The confirmation by the national minister comes amid the looming prospect of a no deal, with the two sides apparently deadlocked on the issue of an Irish border backstop.
Senior EU figures, such as Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Council president Donald Tusk, have both said Brexit is still reversible.
Whether the triggering of Article 50 – which began Britain’s legal move towards the exit door – can be cancelled is, however, the subject of legal dispute.
“We have always said, always, that the door would remain open and that we were not the ones who wanted to diverge from the United Kingdom,” Ms Loiseau told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“It was the British people who decided to leave the European Union.”
Asked whether the UK could stay in on the same terms it had now, she replied: “Sure, of course. [Like] every single member state of the European Union, we have one conviction, which is that the best possible status is being a member, the most profitable status.”
The European Commission has said that if Britain leaves it would have to reapply to join the bloc in the usual way – meaning the UK would likely not be granted its old rebate and preferential treatment it currently has.
Speaking on the same programme, Ms Loiseau warned the British government its strategy of trying to negotiate directly with member states to get a better deal than from the Commission would not work.
“There should be no mistake. Michel Barnier does not represent only the Commission. He is the negotiator for the European Union,” she said.
“He gets his mandate and his guidelines from the heads of state and government. And we have discussed it regularly at the level of ministers. We meet with Michel Barnier on a regular basis.
“So do the heads of state and government. So there is no difference between what Michel Barnier says and what we would say individually, each and every member state.”
The UK has for months tried to get EU member states to conduct side-talks with Britain, but to no avail.
The government’s latest ruse, to translate its Chequers Brexit white paper into different EU languages so it could be read in EU capitals, was met with derision after it emerged that some of the transitions were unreadable and written in “archaic” language.