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France must ratify Brexit deal in English

James Franey
November 28, 2020

France wants to vote on a French-language version of the Brexit deal. But the EU's chief negotiator has confirmed the talks have dragged on for so long there is not enough time for a translation.

Michel Barnier in London on Saturday
Image: Victoria Jones/dpa/picture alliance

French politicians will be forced to ratify a future Brexit deal in English, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier confirmed.

According to a leaked transcript of a private meeting with MEPs obtained by DW, the Frenchman said there was not enough time to get legally-approved drafts ready.

"The ratification of the text will have to be done, I think, on the English version," Barnier told parliamentarians.

"I understand the very difficult conditions under which you are going to have to work on this — if we have a treaty next week — there will be four weeks which is not long at all."

Barnier said that any deal would be translated into all other EU languages, but lawyers would not be able to sign them off in time for EU leaders and the European Parliament to vote on them.

French diplomatic sources insisted only last week that they wanted a legally-approved version in their own language

"Would the British ever contemplate ratifying a treaty that doesn't exist in English?" one official said.

Barnier left for London on Friday for further talks with his British counterpart, David Frost, after briefing MEPs.

French fishers fear post-Brexit future

Three sticking points

The former French foreign minister said negotiations were still "blocked" on the three main issues that have plagued the talks for months: how to prevent unfair trade and competition, known as level-playing field rules, policing any future deal and fishing rights.

Barnier said that Britain had shown "a little bit of flexibility", but it was not enough for EU negotiators.

"The UK side wanted to recover 100% of their rights to fishing and do away with all of our opportunity to fish in their waters," Barnier said, according to the leaked transcript.

"At the moment, the British want to get back 80% of what we are currently fishing in their waters, but that would still mean the destruction of a large part of the fishing fleets in those countries concerned."

The UK also wants to negotiate fishing quotas in the same way non-EU Norway does, which has been repeatedly rejected by Barnier's team.

"It's very hard to explain that British companies, British professions can have pretty much free access to our markets in a facilitated way," he said. "At the same time, European fishermen would be banned from entering British waters or have a guillotine fall on the quotas every year."

"The British don't want that kind of logic they don't accept it."

A UK government spokesperson declined to comment on the numbers cited by Barnier in his session with MEPs.

"Fishing is one of the difficult areas that remain," the spokesperson said. "We will only be able to make progress if the EU accepts the reality that the UK will have the right to control access to its waters at the end of this year."

"There has been some progress in recent days, there is much work to be done and time is now very short. We now need to see more realism from the EU on what it means for the UK to be an independent state."

Time running out

Both sides have said that time is running out to reach an agreement. EU leaders would need to approve the deal at a meeting in Brussels on December 10.

Officials at the European Parliament have said that they are willing to hold an emergency voting session on December 28th to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

Britain left the European Union on January 31st of this year. But a transition phase means it follows all EU rules and laws until December 31st.

If no agreement is struck by then, the UK and the EU would have to trade on what is known as World Trade Organization rules, which would see huge tariffs slapped on goods flowing in both directions.