Imposing a punitive divorce settlement on Britain in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations would be proof the Europe can only advance by “threats, intimidation and blackmail”, the leader of France’s National Front has warned.
Marine Le Pen, the hard-Right leader who is expected to reach the second round run-off in the French presidential election this May, said that a punitive deal with Britain would bolster the position of populist forces across Europe, not deter them.
“The way the EU has reacted to Brexit has put paid to the few in Europe who still believe that there is an ounce of democracy in this structure, that is the EU.
“Europe would be showing its true face, as it already has done so in Greece and tried to do with Britain,” she said when asked if Brussels taking a hard line with the UK would play into the hands of her party.
“This EU doesn’t move forward by consent because it knows its people no longer adhere to this political structure, it advances via threats, intimidation and blackmail.”
European federalists in Brussels, Paris and Berlin have argued that Britain will need to be left conspicuously worse off after Brexit in order to clearly demonstrate to other EU members states the perils of leaving the club.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator gave repeated warnings at his opening press conference last year that Brexit would demonstrate that “it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.
Meanwhile Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council said in a letter to leaders last year that a Brexit deal must leave everyone in “no doubt” about the benefits of EU Membership.
However independent analysts have warned of the risk that an EU punishment strategy – designed to faced down the rising forces of populism that now threaten Europe’s political establishment – might have precisely the opposite effect.
“An excessively punitive attitude in the Brexit negotiations could backfire by providing extra ammunition to the various anti-establishment parties across Europe,” said Vincenzo Scarpetta, a senior policy analyst with Open Europe.
“They would be able to claim that the EU is an undemocratic club where a sovereign nation gets punished for merely exercising a right enshrined in the Treaties.”
Ms Le Pen’s remarks to a meeting of the Anglo-American Press Association in Paris appeared to confirm that risk – which is also advanced in private by British officials and negotiators warning Brussels not to overplay it’s hand.
“It hardly makes the EU look like a club you’d want to be a member in if they try and shoot the first member who decides to leave of their own accord,” said one senior British official, rejecting Franco-German promises that the UK would be worse off after Brexit.
If elected, Ms Le Pen said she would give the EU six months to yield to a list of demands that would enable France to take back control of its borders and economy, including embarking in “intelligent protectionism” currently banned under EU state aid laws.
If her demands are not met, Ms Le Pen says she will then advise the French people that it is time for France to leave Europe.
Polls show that Ms Le Pen remains very unlikely to win in May when opponents from Left and Right are expected to unite to defeat her.
However she remains bullish, arguing that the National Front is riding a powerful new force in Western politics, as demonstrated by Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and host of populist election victories in Italy, Austria and Germany.
“Brexit marks the great return of the nation. It is the notion that the nation wants to be independent, sovereign that only the nation can decide about its destiny, its future. It is this call for freedom that the British people launched by voting for Brexit,” she said.