French and Irish leaders meet in Paris to discuss Brexit

France and Ireland would be the EU nations most directly affected by a no-deal Brexit, the French president has said.

Irish Premier Leo Varadkar travelled to Paris to meet with Emmanuel Macron, where he thanked France for its ongoing solidarity with Ireland in the difficult Brexit period.

“I’m fully aware of the tremendous difficulties such a situation would bring about for Ireland,” said the French president.

“We will never abandon Ireland or the Irish people, no matter what happens, because this solidarity is the very purpose of the European project.”

Mr Macron said that credible justifications for an Article 50 extension for the UK could include an election, second referendum or alternative proposals for the future relationship, such as a customs union.

The EU would be “open” to such proposals, but it was for London to put them forward, he said.

“A long extension involving the participation of the UK in European elections and European institutions is far from evident and certainly not (to be taken) for granted.

“Our priority shall be the good functioning of the EU and the single market. The EU cannot sustainably be the hostage to the solution to a political crisis in the UK.”

He added: “We cannot spend the coming months sorting out yet again the terms of our divorce and dealing with the past.”

Mr Varadkar said although Brexit would be the main topic of conversation, the EU should not let itself be consumed by the issue.

French President Emmanuel Macron waves as he greets Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at the Elysee Palace in Paris
French President Emmanuel Macron waves as he greets Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at the Elysee Palace in Paris

“The UK is being consumed by Brexit, but Ireland and France and the European Union shouldn’t be consumed by Brexit, we have a positive agenda for the EU which we want to deliver,” he said.

“At the last European Council meeting, we gave the UK some time and space to come up with a way forward, as it stands they will leave the EU on April 12 without a deal.

“However, there is still time for the Prime Minister to come to the council with proposals – proposals that are credible and have a clear pathway to success and we need to be open to any proposals she might bring forward to us.

“I’d like to talk about what we can do to assist the Prime Minister to secure the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement including the backstop,” Mr Varadkar told the media in Paris.

“Recognising that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be opened but if the UK changes its red lines, we could make changes to the declaration on the future relationship.

“Also, we’ll need to consider how we may respond to any request for a long extension, and we want to avoid a rolling extension, so any extension must have a clear purpose and plan.

“We’ll need to talk about what we will do in the event of a no deal, which will be particularly difficult for Ireland, and from our point of view, we’ll want to pursue our twin objectives, to protect the Good Friday Agreement on which peace in Northern Ireland is based, and protect the integrity of the single market and customs union, (on) which Ireland’s economic model has been based for decades.”

Speaking ahead of the talks, Mr Macron said the remaining 27 EU nations will continue to show “unity and solidarity with Ireland”.