OTTAWA — Britain’s envoy to Canada says her government wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit departure from the European Union, and its presentation of documents to Brussels on Thursday was a step towards a last-ditch agreement.
High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque said in an interview that a negotiated departure, not the so-called hard Brexit that would mean no negotiated departure agreement with the EU, is still the preferred option for her country.
Her assessment comes in face of widespread European criticism that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has nothing new to offer the EU after more than two years of fruitless negotiations.
Le Jeune d’Allegeershecque was speaking in Ottawa hours after her government presented “confidential, technical non-papers” to the EU on Thursday, which have been described as discussion points and not formal proposals.
The EU confirmed receipt of the papers, which come after the 28-country bloc (counting Britain, for now) has criticized Johnson for not tabling concrete proposals ahead of an Oct. 31 deadline.
Johnson has said Britain will leave the EU by that date, with or without a deal.
The EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Britain’s chief Brexit minister Steve Barclay are to meet on Friday.
“Yes, there are series of confidential, technical non-papers which we have shared with the (European) Commission,” le Jeune d’Allegeershecque said in an interview in her Ottawa office.
“It shows there are concrete proposals on the table,” she added.
“There were people suggesting nothing was happening. It shows that something is happening.”
She said it would be “hugely challenging” to get a deal done in the next six weeks, given that the British Parliament rejected former prime minister Theresa May’s past efforts — a political failure that cost her her job and paved the way for Johnson’s ascent to 10 Downing Street.
After furious debate and political defections from his governing Conservative party, Johnson prorogued Parliament until Oct. 14. That sparked a court challenge from Johnson’s opponents alleging that he acted unlawfully and misled Queen Elizabeth, who formally put Parliament on hold. Britain’s high court says it will issue its ruling next week.
Meanwhile, Britain is also eyeing a European Council meeting on Oct. 17 and 18, where it still hopes to negotiate a deal, said le Jeune d’Allegeershecque.
“The government’s goal is to come away from that European Council with a deal, which they will then present to Parliament, and they want to get that deal through Parliament before the 31st of October so that we do not leave without a deal. That is the objective.”
Kareen Rispal, the French ambassador to Canada, said the EU wants to see a concrete proposal from Britain before it will endorse any extension of the Brexit deadline beyond Oct. 31.
“So far we are not convinced, and if there is no new proposal before the European Council there is no reason to extend,” Rispal said in an interview earlier this week.
“It’s going to hit us badly. So far, the forecast is we’re going to lose half a point of growth due to the Brexit,” she added. “We respect this decision even if we are very saddened by this decision of a withdrawal. We think the U.K. is a very valuable ally in the EU.”
Le Jeune d’Allegeershecque said Britain will make a priority of seeking separate trade deals with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States once it has left the EU.
She said Canadian and British negotiators have been meeting regularly for “technical discussions” to hammer out what elements of an already-negotiated Canada-EU trade deal could be adopted in a two-way agreement.
EU member states are not allowed to negotiate bilateral trade agreements while they are still members of the bloc, and le Jeune d’Allegeershecque said nothing is being formally negotiated at this point.
But Rispal cautioned that Britain’s rush for post-Brexit deals with other countries will have to wait until the actual economic fallout of the departure can be assessed.
“We have no idea what the impact will be,” said Rispal. “Maybe it is going to be worse, maybe it’s going to be OK. And I think that rushing into an agreement the day after, maybe that’s not what we will have to do.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2019.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press