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Improve ’emergency brake’ offer to stop Brexit, says French senator

Jean Bizet says safeguard on migration should be discussed at May-Macron meeting
Europe should try to keep the UK in the EU by improving its offer on an emergency brake on the free movement of people, first made before the 2016 referendum, the chair of the French senate’s European committee has said.
Jean Bizet was speaking to the Guardian before a meeting between Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May at the French president’s holiday retreat on Friday. Bizet is the first senior French politician to respond to an apparent shift in UK public opinion in favour of a further referendum on the final outcome of the Brexit negotiations.
The meeting at Fort Brégançon has been billed as an attempt to explore whether May can persuade Macron to show greater flexibility in the deadlocked Brexit talks than the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. The Élysée stressed on Thursday that the meeting was not intended to undercut Barnier or initiate parallel talks.
The remarks by Bizet, an old political ally of Barnier, shows how Macron is under conflicting domestic pressures. The intention is not solely to ease Britain’s EU withdrawal but also to see whether even at this late stage Brexit can be forestalled.
Bizet’s committee has just published a report on the Brexit talks warning of a real risk of failure to reach a deal. He said no-deal would represent “collective mutual suicide”.
Bizet, expanding on a theme he has raised in the French senate, said it was possible to revive and enhance the idea of an emergency brake on migration, negotiated by David Cameron and Donald Tusk, the EU president, in 2015.
“I have no doubt European capitals would accept the introduction of a safeguard clause in which a country closes its borders when the balance of society is judged to be in danger,” he said. “The Tusk package could come back for discussion. It can be a collective effort by the 27 to keep the UK inside the EU. The Tusk package is not a transformation but a modification.”
The original proposal negotiated by Cameron allowed for an emergency brake on the payment of in-work benefits. The proposed enhancement would allow for an EU-wide restriction on free movement in an emergency.
Bizet, a member of the centre-right Républicains, claimed many senior figures in the European commission and the Visegrád Group of central European countries agreed with this thinking, but it required May to show a willingness to explore the plan. He said he hoped Macron would raise the proposal with May in their private talks.
Bizet said he saw little room for an extension of the EU-UK negotiating timetable. He said the best option was for the UK to remain in the EU, but failing that the next best option would be for the UK to adopt a Norway-style arrangement through membership of the European Economic Area.
The EEA proposal has recently been adopted in private by the Eurosceptic Michael Gove as a temporary port for the UK from next March, the Brexit deadline, so giving leeway in the transition period for detailed talks on a future trading arrangement. In recent days Gove has said privately that May’s Chequers plan for Brexit may be dead in the water.
British ministers have been fanning out across European capitals since the publication of the Chequers plan, warning that a collapse in negotiations would damage not just the UK but also the already stressed EU project before European parliament elections due next May.