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Yesterday, French President Emmanuel Macron accused Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of taking Brexit Britain’s obstructive role at EU summits, as talks over a huge coronavirus rescue fund stretched into a fourth day on Monday. Mr Macron’s patience snapped as tensions deepened in the negotiations over the plans for a €750billion coronavirus stimulus package and bolstered €1.1trillion EU Budget for seven years from 2021. The package is backed by France, Germany, Spain, Italy and others but resisted by the “Frugal Four” of the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark, who were joined by Finland on Sunday.
Mr Rutte has been at the forefront of a campaign not to “give gifts” to other European countries and has rejected all the emergency financial measures that would lead to “debt mutualisation”.
He and his allies have demanded more oversight of payments from the rescue fund, more of the cash to be loans rather than non-repayable grants and for the Budget to be slimmed down.
Mr Macron accused Mr Rutte of behaving like former Prime Minister David Cameron, who would often boast of “battling for Britain” in Brussels.
Mr Cameron’s strategy of taking a hard line in summits for domestic political gain “ended badly” with him losing the Brexit referendum and his job, Mr Macron told Mr Rutte last night.
As tensions between EU members rise, unearthed reports find Mr Macron guilty of an error of judgement, as before the 2016 EU referendum, he warned that if the UK left the EU, it risked isolating itself as a tiny trading post on the edge of Europe, akin to the Channel island Guernsey.
Mr Macron, who at the time was just France’s Economy Minister, told Le Monde four years ago: “If I was British, I would vote resolutely ‘remain’ because it’s in the UK’s interest.
“Leaving the EU would mean the ‘Guernseyfication’ of the UK, which would then be a little country on the world scale. It would isolate itself and become a trading post and arbitration place at Europe’s border.”
In the interview days before the UK’s referendum, Mr Macron was also asked what status Britain would have after Brexit.
He said that within a week of a vote to leave, the European council would collectively send “a very firm message and timetable” on the consequences of Brexit.
He said: “In the interests of the EU, we can’t leave any margin of ambiguity or let too much time go by.
“You’re either in or you’re out.
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“The day after an exit, there would be no more financial passport for British establishments. The European council should give the British an ultimatum on their intentions and the French President will be very clear in that respect.
“If the UK wants a commercial access treaty to the European market, the British must contribute to the European budget like the Norwegians and the Swiss do. If London doesn’t want that, then it must be a total exit.”
Mr Macron had previously said he felt the British referendum marked the end of an era for a bloc that had lost its political direction and needed to rethink and reorganise.
He said the rest of the EU had a “double challenge” the day after any UK referendum result.
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First, it had to avoid the “contamination of Brexit” affecting other countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland or Hungary asking for their own special status.
Then there had to be a new dynamic for an improved “positive project” for Europe so no doubt could set in among member states.
Mr Macron added: “To avoid the trap of Europe fragmenting on the economy, security and identity, we have to return to the original promises of the European project: peace, prosperity and freedom. We should have a real, adult, democratic debate about the Europe we want.”
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