Nathalie Loiseau, France's Europe minister, insisted Paris was “determined to have a good deal” with Britain on its departure from the EU but said “no deal” preparations were under way.
Brexit talks are on a knife-edge, with British Prime Minister Theresa May set to make a pitch to EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday at a summit billed as the last chance to agree a draft deal in time for Brexit day on March 29.
European ministers have been keen to stress their desire to reach an accord with London but EU President Donald Tusk said in a letter inviting leaders to the summit that the “no deal” scenario was “more likely than ever before”.
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Loiseau said “everything is on the table” and France had set up the mechanisms to pass emergency legislation to deal with the chaos expected in the event of “no deal”.
“We are prepared for all scenarios including the absence of an agreement,” she said as she arrived for a meeting of EU ministers in Luxembourg.
“A few days ago I presented in cabinet a plan prepared with the foreign minister to allow us to legislate by decree, in order to take all necessary measures in case of no deal.”
The measures relate to French people in Britain and British citizens in France, she said — as well as the Channel Tunnel, which carries substantial numbers of passengers and quantities of freight each day.
“Clearly these (measures) will include everything to do with the Channel Tunnel — checks which could be necessary if there is no deal,” she said.
May on Monday admitted there was still “disagreement” over how to keep open Britain's land border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, although she said a deal was still “achievable”.
Talks on Sunday between British Brexit minister Dominic Raab and the EU negotiator Michel Barnier ended without breakthrough on the Irish border issue.
London and Brussels say they want no checks imposed on the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but the problem persists of how to square that aim with Britain's decision to leave the EU's single market and the customs union.