France's minister for European affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, sounded the alarm bells in Brussels as Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May embarked on a lightning mini-tour of EU capitals to beg for support.
“The withdrawal agreement is the only one possible,” she said, echoing previous warnings from EU leaders Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, presidents of the European Commission and European Council.
On Monday, May abandoned an attempt to push the divorce deal she brokered with EU leaders last month through a hostile House of Commons, triggering dismay in European capitals who fear more chaos ahead.
“Our responsibility is to prepare for a 'no deal' because it's a hypothesis that is not unlikely,” Loiseau said, suggesting Britain could leave the EU on March 29th without arrangements to keep trade flowing.
“I'm very worried,” she added. “A Brexit without an agreement would be very bad news for the United Kingdom and would have consequences for France.”
On Monday night France's National Assembly voted through a bill that allows the government to take emergency measures to deal with the fallout of a no-deal Brexit, including protecting the lives on Britons living and working France.
Speaking after the vote Loiseau said: “Our collective responsibility is to ensure that France is ready for all the possibilities on March 29th at midnight.
“As the results of the vote showed last night, this bill goes beyond partisan debate and has one goal: the protection of our national interests and those of our fellow citizens.
“We hope that the British government can, in the same way as we have done vis-à-vis their nationals living in France, guarantee the rights of French and European citizens. The French people of the United Kingdom can count on the unfailing commitment of the government.”
One of the key measures the bill includes is the protection of British citizens working in the French civil service. Normally the civil service is only open to French or EU nationals but the National Assembly agreed that the hundreds of British teachers working in French schools and universities should have their status as fonctionnaires protected.
Reacting to the news that the bill had passed parliament Kalba Meadows from Remain in France Together said: “This means that in the event of no deal, the French government can quickly act to bring into effect decrees to ensure that we don't become illegal residents overnight.
“It will almost certainly include some kind of transition or grace period to allow everyone to 'regularise' their situation under whatever new rules would be implemented.
“It also means that teachers and other fonctionnaires won't lose their status or be downgraded to contractual workers,” she added.
“They (British citizens) are a priority,” Loiseau told The Local but said London must show they see the French in the UK in the same way.
“The fact we have dedicated one whole chapter of this bill to the status of Britons living in France shows how important they are to us.
“It shows that we want them to stay. We want them to be able to work, study or be retired here.