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Could France go against all odds and veto a long extension for Brexit?

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Could France go against all odds and veto a long extension for Brexit?
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. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
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France has made its position very clear when it comes to granting a third Brexit extension.

Either the UK passes the deal negotiated with the EU, in which it can have a short prolongation to get it through parliament.

Or, it will have to justify why it wants a longer extension.

But it is against extending the deadline to rediscuss what was agreed on between London and Brussels.

France's minister for European affairs, Amelie de Montchalin, speaking at a live Q&A on En Marche's Facebook page, said: "Things need to be clear, we won't say no to an extension, a couple of days is possible, but we won't give any more time under any kind of conditions or justifications."

New elections or a second referendum are acceptable reasons for wanting a longer extension, according to de Montchalin, but "tight deadlines" are still necessary since the EU needs to be clear to its citizens on Brexit.

"So either the deal is on its way to be ratified — and in that case, there's no problem granting a short extension, the time to pass it through parliament — or else the EU needs to know whether there will be a referendum or new elections," she said.

British MPs voted on Tuesday evening in favour of advancing Brexit legislation to the next stage in parliament but rejected the government's accelerated timeline for the bill that would have seen it pass through the House of Commons by Thursday (October 24).

Read more: France threatens to push back against long extension as Brexit hot potato back in EU hands

Shortly after, European Council President Donald Tusk said he would recommend that European leaders accept the United Kindom's request for a Brexit extension — though how long for is uncertain at this point.

"France cannot launch itself in a period of uncertainty," said de Montchalin. "We need ratification that ends."

In an e-mail to Euronews, an Elysee official reiterated de Montchalin's stance.

"It is up to the British parliament to examine the Withdrawal Agreement as soon as possible. We will see at the end of the week if a purely technical extension of a few days is necessary, to finish this parliamentary procedure," the e-mail said.

"But outside these circumstances, an extension to buy time or to discuss the agreement again is excluded. We have reached a deal, and now it must be implemented without delay.”

A spokesperson for de Montchalin was not able to tell Euronews if France would oppose a three-month extension at this point.

How does France feel about a no-deal Brexit?

A no-deal Brexit remains a very unfavourable possibility for the EU, said de Montchalin.

"We believe that this deal should be able to get a 'yes' or 'no' answer," she said. "What is paradoxical today is that nobody can get behind or reject the deal completely."

"So before turning towards a no-deal, we must give ourselves the chance to know if it's 'yes' or it's 'no'. If this ratification doesn't arrive so then we must ask ourselves some question."

"If it's a yes, then they must get a couple of extra days to (ratify the agreement)."

"Don't take what France says at face value"

However, for Larissa Brunner, a policy analyst at the European Policy Centre, it's important to take what France says with a pinch of salt.

"What France says publicly is not necessarily what it is going to say behind closed doors in a European Council setting because the French government has in mind its domestic audience. It would play very well domestically to adopt a tough line (on the issue)," she said.

Brunner also believes that France adopts a tough line because it sees it as part of a tactic to get the UK parliament to make a decision quickly.

"Even last April, France advocated quite a tough stance because it thought that by putting the UK under a lot of pressure then you increased the chances of parliament approving the deal."

"I'm not sure we can take the rhetoric at face value," added Brunner.

"I do believe that France is pretty fed up with this but at the same time, France has (since the beginning of the Brexit process) have had a bad cop role in a way and I think that’s necessary to some extent in such complex negotiations," said Brunner.

The analyst is convinced that even if France doesn't want a long extension, it can be convinced otherwise by other member states and she certainly doesn't see France vetoing any extension.

"That would be quite unexpected."

So how does the European Council deal with diverging views on extension timeframes?

For Elvire Fabry, an analyst with the Jacques Delors Institute, the EU chooses its extension period based on a compromise between:

-the time necessary to organise new elections and ratify the new deal

- interfere as little as possible with the start of the new European Commission (now fixed to December 1st)

- the willingness of some states to focus on other issues and agree to give the UK a long extension so the British government can restructure itself or even hold a second referendum

- the dominant feeling of Brexit fatigue across the continent

"I think it’s going to depend on how strongly France and other countries feel about their positions behind those closed doors," said Brunner.

She noted that what the EU ultimately wants is an orderly withdrawal, so "going against what every other member state wants with regard to transition takes quite a lot of political capital."

The question for the analyst then becomes "would France really like to use all of its political capital on this question of extension rather than on other issues" and for now it's not clear how strongly countries feel about the issue.

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