France to 'accelerate preparations' for no-deal Brexit
France's President Emmanuel Macron (C,R) talks with European leaders during an European Summit aimed at discussing the Brexit deal, the long-term budget and the single market on December 13, 2018 in Brussels. The 27 European leaders gather for a crucial European Union summit with the British Prime Minister seeking a compromise to save the Brexit deal. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)
(AFP) - France is speeding up preparations for a "no deal" Brexit after the British parliament overwhelmingly rejected a divorce agreement negotiated with the EU, the government said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will meet with key ministers Thursday to look at a "possible acceleration so that state services are ready in the event of Britain leaving the European Union without a deal", government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said.
Ministers had already scheduled a meeting to decide on France's response to the British parliamentary vote.
"The scenario we don't want is a no deal and the risks multiplied yesterday," a source in President Emmanuel Macron's office said.
France has like other European nations been preparing for a scenario in which Britain crashes out of the EU with no divorce deal, and has already been recruiting extra customs agents to be deployed in Channel ports.
President Emmanuel Macron late Tuesday indicated there was a small chance of minor tweaks being made to the agreement which British Prime Minister Theresa May spent two years negotiating with Brussels.
"Maybe we'll make improvements on one or two things, but I don't really think so because we've reached the maximum of what we could do with the deal," he said.
France's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau said Wednesday that the EU could extend the deadline for Brexit beyond March 29 if Britain requested it.
But she stressed that other EU nations considered the deal already on the table to be "the only one possible".
French employers' group MEDEF called on businesses to prepare for "the worst".
Some 30,000 French companies export to Britain, according to the French finance ministry, with goods worth some 31 billion euros ($35.4 billion) in 2017.
The federation of French wine and spirits exporters (FEVS) expressed alarm at the possibility of exports to Britain being suddenly hit by high tariffs.
Britain is the second-biggest export market for French wines, after the United States. France, for its part, is also a major importer of British spirits.
"This vote is harmful to the long-standing and fruitful trading relationship between our two countries," FEVS president Antoine Leccia said.
- Macron warning on referendums -
Macron held up Brexit as a cautionary tale for "yellow vest" demonstrators in France who have been demanding citizen-sponsored referendums on proposals that prove popular with the public.
"When there are difficult decisions to be made it's usually elected officials that take them because of the constraints involved. The hard decisions are rarely taken by referendum," he argued during a meeting with mayors in Normandy on Tuesday.
"Look at what our British friends are going through," he said, adding that Brexit "speaks volumes... about what these referendums, which appear to be good ideas, can result in."
© Agence France-Presse