PARIS (Reuters) - Brexit negotiations should only be extended beyond Oct. 31 for as long as Britain can justify to the European Union’s 27 remaining members, a source close to French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday.
The EU agreed earlier on Friday to London’s request for a Brexit deadline extension but set no new departure date, giving Britain’s divided parliament time to decide on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call for a snap election.
“France wants a justified and proportionate extension. However, we have nothing of the sort so far,” the source told Reuters. “We must show the British that it is up to them to clarify the situation and that an extension is not a given.”
One EU diplomat said France favoured a delay until Nov. 15 or Nov. 30 to keep pressure on the British parliament to approve the departure deal Johnson negotiated with the EU or face a disorderly Brexit.
The source close to Macron declined to say for how long Macron would agree to extend. French officials have previously suggested that the holding of an election or referendum could provide a political justification for an extension.
Macron believes time pressure is important to ensure the ratification process by Britain’s parliament can be completed, with or without an election.
“Pressure must be maintained,” the source added.
Any extension must serve a clear purpose, such as ratifying the current deal, or holding a new election, French officials said. It is up to Britain to explain how much time it needs in each scenario, a second French official said.
“We’re not being firm for the sake of being firm. It’s just that we’ve seen that simply giving time to time leads to nowhere,” the official told Reuters.
“It is up to the British to tell us how much time they need to pass a bill. You don’t need 110 years to pass a bill, surely,” the official said, adding that if parliament simply needed time for ratification, then 10 or 15 extra days should suffice.
More time could be granted if parliament supported Johnson’s call for a new election, the official added.
“We want to respect British sovereignty. If it must be expressed by elections, we would understand that. But what we need is clarity,” the official said.
Asked what France made of other EU countries’ preference for a long-term extension to Jan. 31, the official said: “This period of uncertainty is toxic. What is the point of just giving time to time?”
Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Geert De Clercq and Philippa Fletcher