French furious at UK for Brexit delays - ‘Talks CANNOT drag on’

“Time is pressing,” he told a conference in the northwestern French city of Brest. “We are still in a very vague situation”. Brussels has refused to re-negotiate the withdrawal agreement, insisting it is the “best and only possible” deal despite claims the Irish backstop could chain the UK to EU trade rules. And Mr Le Drian insisted: “The [Brexit] deadline is March 29. If, by chance, there was a request for new talks, [Britain] should say on what, because we cannot have a discussion that goes on for weeks.” 

On a visit to Britain, French European Minister Nathalie Loiseau echoed Mr Le Drian’s concerns, and said Brussels was “still waiting” for a proposal from London.

Mrs Loiseau reiterated the EU position that the withdrawal agreement cannot be reopened and said the current divorce deal was the “best possible solution” and the Irish backstop a “last resort solution”.  

She told BBC radio: “We don't like the backstop, we don't want to have to implement it, and if we have to, we don't want to stay in the backstop. We all agree that it should be temporary.” 

The two sides have locked horns over the so-called Irish backstop, a controversial clause which seeks to prevent the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland – the only land frontier between the UK and the bloc. 

But talks between British and EU officials to break the stalemate will “almost certainly” continue into the weekend, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said on Thursday, ahead of a crunch parliamentary vote in London next week. 

MPs vote on the Brexit accord for a second time on Tuesday, but so far there is little sign of Prime Minister Theresa May getting her deal approved.

“These discussions are running, they're going to be resuming very shortly, they're going to be continuing almost certainly throughout the weekend,” Mr Cox, who is leading the talks, told MPs. 

Mrs May wants legally binding assurances from European leaders that Britain will not be trapped permanently in the backstop, a situation which would keep the UK locked in a customs union with the EU. 

If she loses Tuesday's vote, lawmakers will then vote on Wednesday on whether to proceed and crash out of the EU without a deal in place.

But if lawmakers reject that outcome, they would then vote on Thursday on whether to ask the EU for an extension of the transition period.

But the request for a delay would have to be accepted unanimously by all EU member states, and Britain would have to leave Brussels as scheduled at the end of the month if it is rejected.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said some progress had been made in the last few days and that it was “entirely possible” to reach a deal in time for the vote. 

“We want to remain the best of friends with the EU, that means getting this agreement through in a way that doesn’t inject poison into our relations for many years to come,” he told BBC radio on Friday. 

“This is a moment of change in the relationship between the UK and the EU and history will judge both sides very badly if we get this wrong,” he said.  

Mrs May ramped up the pressure on lawmakers later on Friday, saying Brexit might never happen if they refuse to back her deal next week. 

“Back it and the UK will leave the EU. Reject it and no one knows what will happen. We may not leave the EU at all … the only certainty would be on-going uncertainty,” she said in a speech in the northern town of Grimsby.  

Many fear the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the British economy would be chaotic and painful.

Mrs May, however, stressed Britain will remain a key player on the world stage and a global military power despite the divorce. 

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