Robert Harneis- TDO- (FRANCE)- A spokesman for the Elysée Palace has announced surprise talks between French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Macron will be interrupting his two-week holiday. They will be held at the presidential retreat in the south of France on Friday. Macron and May will meet at Fort Bregançon near Toulon on Friday evening, followed by a private dinner which will include Macron’s wife Brigitte and May’s husband Philip, Reuters reports, citing an Elysée source. No agenda for the talks was immediately provided.
Earlier on Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt met his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in Paris to discuss Brexit. In an interview with French radio, Hunt emphasized Britain’s desire for the European Commission to engage more seriously with Britain’s proposals for a “pragmatic and sensible” outcome to the Brexit negotiations.
Whereas since the referendum the EU has held the initiative in the talks, in the last few days there has been a definite hardening of the British position. A sort of take it or leave it attitude has been noticeable amongst senior British politicians with the warning that ‘no deal’ by the leaving date means no money from Britain for the desperately cash strapped EU. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said: “There is a real chance of no deal by accident. Everyone is assuming, ‘No it will never happen.’ Well, actually, it could.” The result has been a considerable softening of the position of the chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier particularly on the difficult question of the Northern Ireland border.
The former economic adviser to President Macron, Jean Pisani-Ferry, has also given an inter view in which he said there was good reason to believe that the UK could access the European Union’s single market without being forced to accept freedom of movement - and that other countries had struck similar deals in the past. Pisani-Ferry has been close to Macron in the past but recently he has criticized the French President.
The talks come at a difficult time for both leaders. The French President has been under pressure over the scandal surrounding his body-guard Alexandre Benalla. Whilst there is no doubt France needs to talk to the UK about Brexit, it is more than likely that Macron will want to take the opportunity to give a more positive image. Mrs May is doing badly in the polls after a major split in her party over the sort of Brexit conditions that would be acceptable, with the resignation of her popular Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the greatly respected minister responsible for the negotiations, David Davis.
There has also been a push in favor of a second referendum encouraged by opinion polls that show the electorate suffering from Brexit fatigue. This has been accompanied by more fear mongering from Remainer circles with catastrophic visions of everything from the drying up of the supply of medicines and the grounding of all airlines, to a complete blockage of French ports. These dramatic scenarios are unlikely to become reality for the simple reason that whereas it is true the EU could hurt Britain, at the same time Britain could hurt the EU.
Whilst nothing in a difficult situation is impossible, it is very unlikely that the government will call a second referendum bearing in mind the divisive nature of the last one. It seems that as the date of Brexit, now firmly established on the statute book, approaches the minds of politicians in both Brussels and London are being concentrated. In the EU pressure is coming from member states to reach a reasonable settlement and forget about Brussels other objective which is to punish the British for daring to vote leave.