Ahead of their meeting in Paris, Macron appeared to taunt the prime minister by suggesting Johnson’s much-sought after UK-US trade deal would nowhere near make up for the loss of trade with the EU.
The warning that the UK would become an offshoot of the United States was a direct jibe at Brexiteers including the PM, who have often claimed that Theresa May’s Brexit deal would turn the UK into a ‘vassal state’ of Brussels.
In an explosive set of remarks hours before the meeting at the Elysee Palace, Macron also seemed to goad British MPs into stopping Brexit in coming weeks, stating that it could be stopped ‘up to the last second’ before the planned departure date of October 31.
Macron said that “the British are attached to being a great power” but warned that if the UK quits the EU without a deal with Brussels it would become a “junior partner” of the US.
“Can the cost for Britain of a hard Brexit - because Britain will be the main victim - be offset by the United States of America? No.
“And even if it were a strategic choice it would be at the cost of a historic vassalisation of Britain. I don’t think this is what Boris Johnson wants. I don’t think it is what the British people want. I don’t think it’s the will of the British people … to become the junior partner of the US.”
Johnson used the phrase last November to urge the British cabinet to ditch May’s deal, declaring “we are going to stay in the customs union on this deal, we are going to stay effectively in large parts of the single market and that means it’s vassal state stuff”.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, now Commons leader, had also jibed May with similar criticism. “She hasn’t so much struck a deal as surrendered to Brussels and given in to everything they want and tried to frustrate Brexit that it’s not so much a vassal state anymore as a slave state,” he said last year.
As MPs mull over ways to prevent a no-deal exit, Macron added: “It was the British people who decided on Brexit, and the British government has the possibility up to the last second to revoke Article 50.” Johnson is set to tell the French president that he does not believe that the House of Commons can prevent an exit on October 31.
On Wednesday night, Johnson appeared to get a warmer reception as he took part in a ‘cordial’ dinner with German chancellor Angela Merkel.
However, Merkel put the onus on the PM to come up with an alternative plan to avoid a no-deal outcome, suggesting he had just 30 days in which to table detailed proposals to protect the EU’s single market while keeping open Northern Ireland’s border with Ireland.
No.10 insiders played down claims that there had been a breakthrough, accepting that Merkel had stuck to the EU position that any changes had to be made through a future relationship package rather than unpicking the withdrawal agreement struck with Theresa May.
The meeting with Macron was always set to be tougher for Johnson, with the French president having been much less conciliatory than his German colleague. The pair are due to deliver short statements but will not stage a press conference like that in Berlin.
Macron has repeatedly said that he won’t grant the UK a further extension to its EU membership and that it needs to accept the deal on the table or leave without one.
Last night, Macron said that renegotiation of the deal to remove the Irish border backstop provision “is not an option”.
Johnson’s letter to European Council President Donald Tusk earlier this week suggested there is a choice “between the integrity of the European market and the respect of the Good Friday Agreement”, the French president added. “We wouldn’t choose between these two.”
Yesterday, an EU commissioner launched a withering attack on Johnson, describing him as ‘an unelected’ premier who was ‘gambling’ with peace on Northern Ireland to deliver a hard Brexit.