France is expected to push for the removal of the post of British European commissioner as a price for a protracted Brexit delay. This will leave Britain without a seat at the top table of Brussels decision-making for the first time since 1973.
Emmanuel Macron is likely to seek to entrench the UK’s reduced status in the EU at the leaders’ Brexit summit on Wednesday evening.
It is understood the commission is backing the plan. “The commission will demand this; it is logical,” said one senior EU diplomat, adding that a British commissioner could not take a seat “if the term of the mandate is short”. A French spokesman declined to comment on its position.
The British government will have to agree to losing its commissioner but it is unlikely the prime minister will put up a fight when she is presented with the terms of an extension.
“There are different legal means not to have a [British] commissioner,” added an EU diplomat, suggesting one way could be the British government declining to nominate anyone. “The question of non-participation could depend also on the British government.”
Leaders are expected to reject Theresa May’s appeal for a limited extension to 30 June, but the EU27 are split between those who support a Brexit delay until 31st December year, and those who think the end of March 2020 would be safest.
The European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, is said to favour an extension to March 2020, to allow the maximum feasible amount of time for Westminster to find a way forward and “kick the can down the road”, a senior diplomat said.
France has been an outspoken critic of allowing the UK to extend its EU membership without a clear plan, suggesting that Britain’s crisis should not be allowed to take the bloc “hostage”.
Senior diplomats have suggested that France would also be more comfortable with any extension being limited to the end of the year due to concerns in Paris over Britain becoming a difficult member state.