May shouldn’t get excited by Macron’s ‘special deal’

by Luke Lythgoe | 22.01.2018

In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr yesterday, Emmanuel Macron seemed to agree the UK could get a “bespoke special” deal with the EU (watch from 26 mins). But this isn’t the kind of “bespoke deal” we hear Theresa May urging at every opportunity. The French president has not deviated from the EU’s line. No one is having their cake and eating it.

This “special deal” revelation is largely the result of the sort of imprecise messaging that often comes out of interviews, especially in a second language – as good as Macron’s English is.

During the interview, Macron said the UK will have its “own solution”. Pressed by Marr on whether this meant “a bespoke special solution for Britain”, the president replied “sure”. But he emphasised time and again that access to the single market depended on “preconditions” – accepting EU budget payments, free movement and ECJ jurisdiction – and that there couldn’t be any “cherry picking”.

The BBC then previewed the interview with a headline announcing this “special deal”, which was then picked up by other media, including the Financial Times which led with: “Macron boosts May’s hopes of bespoke EU trade deal”.

This coverage was technically correct in that Macron did suggest a “special deal” could be reached. And both reports were balanced, featuring the president’s comments on cherry-picking prominently. But the emphasis on the special deal undermined the interview’s overall message. The BBC duly came in for criticism on social media for over-egging the special deal.

The French embassy in the UK also felt the need to clarify the president’s position via Twitter, reinforcing the “strict and non-negotiable” conditions for accessing the single market. It added that Macron specifically mentioned “an ambitious trade agreement of the type negotiated with Canada (obviously adapted to the UK, as every bilateral trade agreement is unique)”.

By that logic, the UK would indeed have its “own solution” – that’s how trade agreements work. Macron was as such making a simple point, not buying into Theresa May’s vision of an EU-UK relationship where we continue cooperation on security and science, get access for our services industries, but ditch free movement and stop making “vast contributions” to the EU budget.

During his visit to the UK, Macron was playing an important part in the EU’s Brexit strategy. This involves rejecting the government’s proposals for a bespoke deal while deploying a “forgive and forget” love-bombing policy aimed at making May and her ministers look like the bad guys, according to reports in The Times today.

Macron was very much on message in his interview, rejecting cherry picking while saying he would “love to welcome” the UK back. Putting the garbled exchange about special deals aside, his message was that the UK and the EU can be close but there are preconditions to exactly how close. He essentially put the ball back in the UK’s court – where it will stay until May lets go of her “bespoke deal” fantasy.

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    Edited by Hugo Dixon

    2 Responses to “May shouldn’t get excited by Macron’s ‘special deal’”

    • Macron was incautious in agreeing the UK can have a bespoke special deal. He is trying too hard to be nice, especially as he knows there is no way the EU can afford to show favouritism towards us.

    • It is about time that the Tory and Labour front benches plus most of the UK media were put out of their misery and that this myth about breaking open the Single Market (and Customs Union) for UK service exports and other benefits without cost, rules or responsibility, was finally ended.

      The petty little inglander nationalist case is a dead parrot even if it does not know it yet and no one can make it flap it’s wings.