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France

Macron says Europe can't be held prisoner to Brexit

media French President Emmanuel Macron says British MPs have to decide what they want from the Brexit process. REUTERS/Eva Plevier

French President Emmanuel Macron has said Europe must not remain hostage to the Brexit process as British Prime Minister Theresa May has to persuade a deeply divided parliament to back her Brexit deal after the EU granted her more time.

“The European project must not remain hostage to Brexit,” Macron told reporters on Friday at the two-day Brussels summit.

His message to Britain was blunt: ratify our hard-won divorce deal, present a new plan or leave without a deal on 12 April.

Britain had sought an extension until 30 June.

Macron has been the most forthright among EU leaders in wanting to draw a line quickly under Britain’s Brexit crisis to refocus on pushing forward the bloc’s agenda.

Some, including Germany and Ireland, have instead stressed the need to make every effort to ensure a chaotic exit is avoided.

Under Thursday’s deal, 22 May will be the departure date if the British parliament finally approves May’s withdrawal agreement next week after twice resoundingly rejecting it.

If it does not, Britain must present a new plan by 12 April or leave the EU without a treaty.

'France didn't choose this'

Ireland, Germany and others adopted a softer tone during a fraught seven hour debate on Thursday, but Macron was adamant:

"We are ready for Brexit," he said "France didn’t choose this, the British people did. We can feel sorry about it, but we have had time to prepare for it."

Macron's comments, some EU officials said, seemed to reflect a belief that the bloc might be better off without Britain, which has long resisted moves towards closer European integration, for example by staying out of the euro currency and
the passport-free Schengen zone.

Macron is aware that a no-deal Brexit would badly hurt France and other northern EU states as well as Britain by disrupting business and raising restrictions to trade.

In the 1950s, France took the lead in setting up, with five other countries, what would eventually become today's 28-nation EU, while Britain declined an invitation to join. Britain finally joined in 1973.

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