The outcome of Brexit negotiations between Britain and the EU was determined by “the quarrels, low blows, multiple betrayals and thwarted ambitions of a certain number of Tory MPs”, Michel Barnier has said.
British politicians, driven by domestic agendas, failed to grasp the implications of the 2016 referendum vote to leave the union, its chief negotiator said in his diaries.
The Great Illusion, Mr Barnier’s account of the protracted talks, has been published in France with extracts reported by The Guardian.
The Frenchman claims the British began the process by “talking to themselves” and ended it with “political piracy”.
Boris Johnson, he writes, advanced “like a bulldozer, manifestly trying to muscle his way forwards” without fully understanding the legal complexities of the negotiations.
After he succeeded Theresa May as prime minister, trust between the negotiating teams “steadily eroded”.
He pours scorn on Mr Johnson’s “derisory… almost infantile” threats to walk away from negotiations on a trade deal, saying it was “a psychodrama we could have done without”, the paper added.
In the diaries, Ms May is treated more kindly, described as “direct, convinced of what she says, wants to impose her authority”.[She] wants to negotiate “a Brexit with minimum damage, even though she believed this would be a negative event for the UK”, Mr Barnier writes.
Mrs May was “a courageous, tenacious woman surrounded by a lot of men busy putting their personal interests before those of their country,” the paper said, and “exhausted herself, in a permanent battle with her own ministers and with her parliamentary majority”.
Some of his harshest words are reserved for his British opposite number in the talks, David Frost, whom he accuses of “using threats and false accusations”.
Mr Barnier believed Brexit has caused the problems in Ireland and Northern Ireland, but Mr Frost’s view was that issues there had existed for centuries.
Defending Ireland, Mr Barnier told him: “I love this country very much and the people who live there.”
As for his arch-nemesis, Nigel Farage, he says, in private, the Brexiteer “is just as friendly and gentle as he is violent and incendiary in public”.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had “a messianic glow”, he says after their first meeting.
One of his warmest memories is of being seated next to the Queen at a state lunch in 2004, the diaries reveal.
Unsure of his English, he asked her how to say “Vive l’Entente cordiale”.
Her Majesty replied: “You must say ‘Long live the Entente Cordiale’.
“Never before had I imagined having such a prestigious teacher,” he says.
His mantra throughout the tortuous negotiations was “Keep Calm and Negotiate”, he says, and he was later offered a red mug with those words on it, which he kept in his office.
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