Michel Barnier, the French politician who’s just stepped off a four-year Brexit rollercoaster, speaks to FRANCE 24’s Europe Editor Catherine Nicholson about holdups at British borders, whether he trusts Boris Johnson and a rumoured run for the French presidency.
Currently serving as the European Commission’s Head of Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom, here’s Barnier’s take on what’s going on post Brexit:
On added red tape and holdups at the British borders
„There was never a spirit of revenge or punishment. But „Brexit means Brexit“ and as for food products […] the fact that these products are now being checked for the safety of European consumers is the consequence of Brexit. It’s not a consequence of the specific deal that I helped create,“ Barnier tells us.
On trusting Boris Johnson after the British threat to break international law
„Trust must be earned. Regarding the Protocol on Ireland, I was personally struck by the UK’s attempt to question the agreement’s validity. Several former British prime ministers said it better than me, and we told the UK back then: „Be careful, if you want to build a long-term relationship based on trust, you must respect past agreements“. In the end that is what happened, reason prevailed and I’m glad it did.“
On the lack of a work visa exemption for touring artists and musicians
„It was the UK’s decision. I’m not going to keep debating this with the British government. We issued a proposal as early as March for an ambitious partnership on the free movement of our citizens and this was rejected in the name of British independence, of sovereignty and of the country’s new immigration policy which clashed with this proposal. […] We will submit a wide-ranging proposal on mobility.“
On the UK government’s downgrading of the EU ambassador’s diplomatic status
„It seemed to me that, in the name of maintaining good relations between our countries, it was possible to avoid this slightly offensive measure which we do not understand. I hope that reason will prevail, because this honestly isn’t a good start for our diplomatic relations.“
On a potential run for the French presidency
„I plan to remain an active and invested politician for as long as I have the energy, the enthusiasm and the indignation. I will get involved in this country that requires unity, that needs all kinds of energies and I will see with my friends where exactly I can be the most useful.“