Six months after his role as chief Brexit negotiator for the European Union came to an end, Michel Barnier has told Euronews that he would “prefer not to say” what he thought of UK negotiators.
The interview coincides with the Frenchman releasing a book, My Secret Brexit Diary: A Glorious Illusion, documenting the arduous 1600 day diplomatic struggle between the UK and the EU.
He told Euronews that six months ago, he would have characterised the negotiations process as having tenacity and respect. Now, however, he said “vigilance” is key as the “agreement is only worth something if it is implemented and respected”.
The former commissioner warned that he anticipated London may seek to change fiscal, social, and environmental standards to regain and competitive advantage, and he advised all Europeans to remain cautious over this.
When it came to his thoughts on other politicians, he was happy to express his opinions. “I prefer to say that I still have a lot of respect for Olly Robbins who was Mrs May’s European advisor. I have a lot of esteem for Theresa May who was courageous and tenacious,” he told the news organisation.
This was all he would share, however, saying that he would “prefer to stop at that” concerning people he was to comment on.
Since the UK left the bloc, some critics have feared other countries may follow this pattern. Yet, Barnier believes the “negative” four-year process is enough to deter them.
“We talk about successful negotiations. I don’t know if we can talk about success when you use the word divorce, because divorce is always negative,” he explained.
Nonetheless, he remains wary. “Mr Farage told me that he wanted to blow up the European Union. We don’t have to please Mr Farage, but there is also a popular feeling that has been expressed and that exists in many of our European countries, in many regions,” he told Euronews.
“It’s a feeling of exclusion, of having no future, no jobs, insufficient public services, poorly controlled immigration. All these popular feelings are not populism. It is a popular feeling that is deep-rooted. In France, we saw it once again in recent elections, like in many other countries. We must react to it,” he urged.
When it came to the Northern Ireland protocol, Barnier wasn’t as hesitant. “The protocol we signed was negotiated step by step, comma by comma, with Boris Johnson himself, not with Mrs May. But, it was Boris Johnson who signed this agreement, who asked his parliament to approve this protocol, which was then ratified, this agreement is the only one possible,” he revealed.
Barnier was also grilled on why Europe has looked the other way for ten years when it came to a rise in homophobia across Eastern Europe.
“I don’t think that Europe is looking the other way. You yourself mentioned the debate that took place at the European Council. There are procedures that have been or can be initiated by the Commission to ensure that everyone respects the treaties,” the former commissioner replied.
He also added: “At the same time, you have to ask yourself what would happen in these countries if they were not part of the European Union, with its legal body, without rules, without co-habitation rules, the situation would be much more serious. I fight for the implementation of these procedures, for the use of pressure, to convince leaders that everyone should behave. I think dialogue is the best way to force them, to convince them, rather than exclusion”.
Since his role ended, the Frenchman has returned to his country’s political scene and has not ruled out standing in next year’s presidential elections.
“I am a politician. I have the energy, ideas, ambition, the capacity to be useful. I can’t tell you yet where and how because I have to check with my political family that I can be useful. This is my serious answer to a very serious question,” shared Barnier.
“For me, the time has not come yet to answer this, but I am preparing myself, I am seriously preparing myself because it is necessary to be serious in an election like this one and I am ready.”