Sophie Ridge on Sunday Interview with Natalie Loiseau


SOPHY RIDGE: Well Boris Johnson has promised to take the UK out of the EU come what may on October 31st but what happens next will partly be determined by European leaders like France’s President Macron. His close ally and former Europe Minister, now MEP, Natalie Loiseau, joins us now from Paris. Thank you so much for being on the programme this morning.

NATALIE LOISEAU: Thank you, good morning.

SR: Boris Johnson has insisted that the backstop is removed entirely from the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, something that the EU has said isn’t possible. If that position remains are we heading for no deal.

NATALIE LOISEAU: Well first of all Boris Johnson is right on something, there is to be a decision fast and it has to be implemented because three years of suspense is a lot and maybe too much but then the way the UK wants to leave the European Union, you have a choice, the House of Commons has a choice. There is the Withdrawal Agreement which is on the table which has been negotiated and signed by the previous government or there is a no deal. Let me say it clearly, there is not an in between because you have the British Parliament but we have the European Parliament and we would not ratify a Withdrawal Agreement without a backstop.

SR: You say there are only two choices, the Withdrawal Agreement or a no deal. Some in the UK think that actually if Boris Johnson shows he is serious about a no deal then actually the EU will soften their position because they also want to avoid a no deal. Do you think that is the case at all?

NATALIE LOISEAU: Well we do want to avoid a no deal and the Withdrawal Agreement is on the table. Why create a crisis when there is none, when there is a way out? The Withdrawal Agreement is about the past and the present and now we have to work about the future relationship and the only way forward is the Withdrawal Agreement or deciding to remain in the European Union which would be a more [topical?] choice but it is your choice to make, not ours.

SR: So there is no compromise at all on the EU side?

NATALIE LOISEAU: The Withdrawal Agreement is a compromise, there are many, plenty of EU concessions in it. You have changed your Prime Minister but we have not changed our minds, we are protecting our citizens, we are protecting our company, we are protecting the consistency of the single market and we are protecting peace in the island of Ireland. All of these are very important to us as they are to you and the Withdrawal Agreement is not the devil as it was portrayed, it is a reasonable compromise from both sides which provides us with the opportunity to move forward and this is the most important. We need to have strong relations in the future so let’s build them on a stable basis.

SR: If the UK does leave without a deal there will of course be a desire to start trade talks with the EU so I’m interested to know what you think the preconditions will be for those trade talks. Would the EU for example insist on the UK signing up to the backstop?

NATALIE LOISEAU: Well I have a big question mark. I understand what the Commons don’t want, they don’t want a no deal. I understands what Boris Johnson doesn’t want, he doesn’t want the current Withdrawal Agreement. But what does he propose, what is the plan, where are the details? We have heard speeches, talented ones but we have not heard about a plan to provide the EU with necessary insurances that there is no hard border on the island of Ireland and that will protect the Good Friday Agreement and that will protect the consistency of the single market. This is what the backstop is about so where is the proposal coming from the British, I have heard and seen of none of them, I only heard what is optimistic. I would like to be optimistic, I would like to provide both the UK and the EU for the best possible solution but it is not about campaigning and political speeches, it’s about a huge amount of work that has been done by negotiators on both sides and one should trust them.

SR: I want to just bring you back to what the EU would insist on to start trade talks with the EU [sic]. Would you insist on the £39 billion?

NATALIE LOISEAU: Well we have said that the Withdrawal Agreement is on the table, that it is balanced and there will not be, if there was to be a no deal, there will not be a negotiation on the future relations with the European Union without having clarity for Ireland, without having clarity for UK [trade?] and without having clarity for protection of citizens so it would bring us back to where we are today.

SR: Now Emmanuel Macron is someone that you know well and is going to have a big say on what happens next with Brexit. We know he has already spoken to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, how do you think those two men will get on?

NATALIE LOISEAU: Well they met already when Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary to the Cabinet of Mrs May so they know each other. The question is not a question of character or personalities, it is a question of interests on both sides. We keep on wondering why the UK wants to take the path of weakening the country at the moment where threats and competition are [inaudible] but if it remains the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and to have a relation with us that will be diminished compared to what it is today, we respect it but you also have to understand that we have interests that are about the consistency of the single market and the interests of our citizens and our companies so it is not a question of characters and we will not change our minds because you have changed your Prime Minister.

SR: At the same time though character does come into politics of course doesn’t it? It’s about relationships as well. Did it help when Boris Johnson was recorded as describing the French people as turds about their attitude over Brexit?

NATALIE LOISEAU: Well it’s about character of course, there is a lot of attention about the way Boris Johnson campaigned to become the Tory leader and then the Prime Minister but let us forget about it, at some point if there is to be an a Withdrawal Agreement it has to be ratified both in the Commons and in the European Parliament so it is about what is inside, it is about content and I think it’s not about short sentences made to please an audience, it’s about much more than that. It is time to get serious, we are talking about the future of Europe, the future of the European Union, the future of the United Kingdom.

SR: Of course time is running out as well. There is some talk here about the possibility of an election before Brexit happens, if there was to be an election do you think the EU would grant another extension while that played out?

NATALIE LOISEAU: Well the only reason to grant an extension is if there is something serious happening which can be a general election, it can be a People’s Vote, it cannot be something else. It cannot be let’s talk again about what we have been talking for three years but yes indeed, we have been extremely respectful about what was going on domestically in the United Kingdom because you are a friend and an ally, you are a democracy so if there is to be a general election it can be reason to wait for the result.

SR: Just finally while we have you, you once joked that you had a cat called Brexit because it wakes me up meowing like crazy every morning because it wants to go out but as soon as I open the door it just sits there undecided and then looks angry when I put it outside. So with Boris Johnson in charge is your cat happy to go outside now?

NATALIE LOISEAU: Well let’s ask Larry the cat what he thinks about Boris Johnson, mine will remain silent.

SR: I think Larry is not very happy because there is talk about a dog coming into Downing Street. Thank you very much for being on the programme this morning, Natalie Loiseau there.