Macron voiced the strongest opposition to a long Brexit delay as the emergency summit in Brussels stretched from early evening on Wednesday to early Thursday morning when the UK was granted an extension until the end of October.
France stood nearly alone, with backing from just Belgium, Austria and some smaller EU states, as Macron pushed to limit the delay to only few weeks and demanded guarantees that London would not interfere in EU business during that time.
Macron argued that a long delay could cause the EU damage, which would be worse than a no-deal.
“The default position is no deal. Endangering the functioning of the EU is not preferable to no-deal,” said a source from the Élysée.
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“We do not want to import Britain’s political crisis into the EU,” said the source, adding that British Prime Minister Theresa May's talks with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn did not justify “a long extension without guarantees for the functioning of the European Union”.
But most leaders backed the longer plan, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the French had to settle a review of the delay at a pre-planned EU summit on June 20th and 21st.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, said that Macron’s opposition meant that “we are now only solving French domestic problems”.
Macron said afterwards this was the “best possible compromise”, which “made it possible to preserve the unity” of the other 27 EU states.
“The October 31st deadline protects us” because it is “a key date, before the installation of a new European Commission”, he said, adding that a long extension he said would not have been logical for the EU.
“We would have decided to weaken our institutions, by having a member who is permanently there but leaving.”
The French leader had already made his position clear earlier in the week, tweeting on Monday: “What is essential: nothing to compromise the European project. We have a European Renaissance to lead, I believe very deeply and I do not want the subject of Brexit to block us on this point.”
May left the group after giving what one official said was a “solid” presentation of her case, but was kept up to date by Tusk, who met her before, during and after the discussions.
Without a postponement, Britain would have ended its 46-year membership of the EU at midnight on Friday with no deal, risking economic chaos on both sides of the Channel.
Response to Macron's stance on Twitter was mixed, with many seeing it as little more than political posturing.
“Macron had been pretty dismal here. There really is no meaningful advantage to October over December except for him to look tough, but shortening it has limited the options,” tweeted editor of politics.co.uk, Ian Dunt (see below).
Macron had been pretty dismal here. There really is no meaningful advantage to October over December except for him to look tough, but shortening it has limited the options.
— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) April 10, 2019
Meanwhile veteran France correspondent John Lichfield said: “Macron has made a bit of a fool of himself, it seems. Could never have vetoed alone. No political gain from that, not domestically, not in terms of his EU Renaissance agenda. A miscalculation.”