French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has dismissed UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s blueprint for post-Brexit relations with the EU as unacceptable, suggesting that her proposals may deal a deadly blow to Europe.
“If we yield to the concept that we are able to exit the European Union and keep all the benefits of the single market then it is the end of Europe. Sorry, to put in bluntly, but what is more important for us than the future of the UK is the future of Europe, and so we will take no decision that could weaken the future of the EU,” he said.
Le Maire emphasized that May’s proposal, which focused on a London-Brussels free trade area for goods, crossed “red lines” for France.
“We require a comprehensive agreement, not one just on goods. All decisions that give European citizens the suggestion that they can leave the European Union and keep all the advantages of the European Union would be suicidal. So we don’t take them.”
Nonetheless, the minister agreed that the Chequers plan was a “move in the right direction,” and welcomed May’s “courage.”
Le Maire’s comments somewhat echoed the statements made by President Emmanuel Macron during the EU summit in Salzburg last week, where European leaders told May that her Chequers plan “will not work” and gave her four weeks to save the divorce talks.
President Macron suggested that May's post-Brexit plan was "not acceptable" because it undermined the single market, and stressed that the UK’s exit was “not without cost” or “without consequences.”
"That [the Chequers plan] is a brave step on the part of [UK] Prime Minister [Theresa May]… But I want to say clearly… that the proposals cited today are not acceptable, particularly, in the field of economics," Macron said at a press conference.
In the wake of the summit, May said that EU leaders hadn’t explained their dismissal of the Chequers plan, which the UK government regarded as the basis for the final exit deal with the bloc.
“It is not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter-proposals,” she said.
Under the Chequers proposal, London and Brussels would create a free trade area, based on a "common rulebook" that will see both parties adhere to the same standards on goods, thus eliminating the need for customs and regulatory border checks.
At the same time, May wanted London to have its own trade policy outside the customs union, but the EU has on multiple occasions accused the UK of attempting to cherry-pick European rules and turned down the plan amid concerns that it would undermine the single market.
May has been facing much criticism in the United Kingdom and beyond over her way of tackling the Brexit process amid the possibility of a no-deal scenario and an extension of the Brexit process beyond the March 2019 deadline.