May seeking French support for Brexit plan

London – British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to push French President Emmanuel Macron to back her latest Brexit proposals during talks late Friday at his official retreat in southern France, Fort de Bregancon.

May set out a plan last month to create a free trade area for goods and agricultural products between Britain and the EU, in effect keeping the sector under EU single market rules and ensuring an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

But Britain would leave the single market for services, which accounts for some 80 per cent of Britain’s economy, she said.

Ahead of the meeting with Macron, May discussed Brexit by telephone on Friday with European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, officials said, without giving details.

May’s plans will “undermine single market”

May is expected to seek the loosening of the EU’s demands for a guaranteed “backstop” to maintain an open Northern Ireland-Ireland border after Brexit, according to British media.

She has insisted that the “backstop” would only be a last resort to keep regulatory alignment across the border if no other agreement can be found on post-Brexit customs arrangements.

In a blow to her hopes of winning support for her proposals, EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said May’s plan to keep single-market status for goods but not services would “undermine our single market, which is one of the EU’s biggest achievements.”

“The UK wants to keep free movement of goods between us, but not of people and services. And it proposes to apply EU customs rules without being part of the EU’s legal order,” Barnier wrote in an op-ed published in 20 European newspapers on Thursday.

No-deal Brexit likelihood rises

“Thus, the UK wants to take back sovereignty and control of its own laws, which we respect, but it cannot ask the EU to lose control of its borders and laws.”

In an interview with the Evening Standard earlier this week, new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called on France and Germany to send a “strong signal” to the European Commission on securing a deal ahead of Britain’s exit in March.

Adding to the pressure on May to make progress, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney told the BBC on Friday that the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal had become “uncomfortably high.”