My Secret Brexit Diary, Michel Barnier’s blow-by-blow account of the Brexit negotiations, is at times quite a dry and technical read. But every now and then it offers glorious moments of comic relief. There is, for example, the day that Lord Digby Jones and a jovial bunch of leave-voting businessmen pitch up optimistically at Barnier’s Brussels office, plonking a patriotic gift-basket on his desk. Running his eye over it, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator spies some cheddar, wine, tea and jam, a book of Shakespeare’s plays and an essay on Winston Churchill’s life and political philosophy. With a smile, Barnier points out that some of the foodstuffs are processed from European products and protected by EU designations of origin. As for Shakespeare and Churchill, one, he suggests, was a very “continental playwright” and the other a “very European British statesman” who backed a united Europe.
This false start is the prelude to some unsuccessful lobbying by the British delegation on behalf of the City’s financial services industry. When Barnier bats away demands for full post-Brexit access to European markets, he writes that the mood suddenly turns sour: “Digby Jones dares to say to me: ‘Mr Barnier, your position is contrary to the interests of the economy. You are going to make life even more difficult for the worker in the Ruhr, the single woman in Madrid or the unemployed man in Athens.’” The rhetoric and tone, concludes Barnier in his diary entry for 10 January 2018, was “morally outrageous”; the desired bespoke agreement on financial services never materialises.
This, of course, is the Michel Barnier that “remain Britain” came to know and admire during the four, fractious years of Brexit negotiations. Suave, calm and scrupulously polite, armed with a clear mandate and ferociously on top of his brief, the 70-year-old saw off a shambolic, ever-changing cast of British interlocutors. David Davies, Dominic Raab, David Frost; all tried and failed to extract special treatment for Brexiting Britain. At regular televised briefings, Barnier defended the integrity of the EU single market, free movement and European institutions with the unyielding logic and gritty determination of a seasoned technocrat. For millions of despairing Britons, he epitomised the virtues of a collaborative, rational and wealth-generating political project, on which the United Kingdom was senselessly turning its back.
There is, he agrees, a clear parallel between the discontent of the red wall voters and the gilehttps://www.reddit.com/r/BroncosvsJetslivetime/
ts jaunes in France
That was then, though. Nine months after a post-Brexit trade deal was dramatically achieved last Christmas Eve, the distinguished, handsome face is instantly recognisable in an early-morning interview ahead of My Secret Brexit Diary’s publication in English; the grey suit and dark blue tie recall the sober sartorial style adopted at those endless press conferences and the professorial, slightly stern manner is the same. But the politics of Michel Barnier have, it is fair to say, moved on. Tough controls on immigration; a restricted role for European courts and a new politics of patriotism: these are the eyebrow-raising new demands of the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator.
The transformation has taken place as Barnier embarks upon perhaps the last great challenge of a political career that began at the age of 14 in 1965, when he cut his teeth campaigning for Charles de Gaulle against François Mitterrand. Having recently announced his intention to run for the French presidency in elections to be held next spring, Barnier hopes to be the chosen candidate for the centre-right party Les Républicains. What he describes as the “lessons of Brexit” are central to his pitch. But not quite in the way his erstwhile admirers might have expected.
“The first chapter of my book is entitled ‘A warning’,” says Barnier, holding up an elegant yellow-jacketed French edition. “People in the bubble of Brussels think they are always right,” he says. “They don’t want to listen. They don’t want to change anything. This is precisely the way to provoke more Brexits elsewhere in Europe. I’m not a federalist. I’ve never been a federalist. I’m a Gaullist and I’m still on the same track – a patriot and a European. And I’m a European in addition to being a patriot and not instead of being a patriot. As the former Brexit negotiator and as a French politician I will draw the lessons of Brexit, OK?”