Meet the Brussels Brexit henchman who resents the UK
EUROPEAN Union boss Jean-Claude Juncker was yesterday accused of taking “revenge” on Britain by making a Frenchman who champions a United States of Europe his head of Brexit talks.
Michel Barnier is said to blame Britain for losing his French government job and is disliked in the City of London for the tough new rules he introduced after the 2008 global financial crash as EU Commission financial services chief from 2010 until 2014.
Officials who have worked with him insist Mr Barnier is a pragmatist but one diplomatic source said: “It’s a sign the Commission wants to play hardball. He will be a tough negotiator. He is far from a soulmate for Britain.
“As Commissioner he was much more regulatory, much more eurozone-centric than we would have liked.
“There are suggestions that he still blames Britain after losing his job as French foreign minister following their referendum (which voted down the EU Constitution in 2005). There’s a bit of resentment against the UK there.” In 2010 when he took his Commission job some UK media dubbed him “the most dangerous man in Europe”. French president Nicolas Sarkozy, also in 2010, crowed that it was a victory over “Anglo Saxon capitalism”.
Yesterday Mr Juncker, who beat Mr Barnier, 65, to the job of Commission chief in 2014, named him the organisation’s chief negotiator on the details of Britain’s exit from the EU.
The British government responded coolly with a statement suggesting it saw the EU Council of Ministers, where summit chairman Donald Tusk has named veteran Belgian diplomat Didier Seeuws his chief Brexit broker, and other governments as more significant in the forthcoming talks.
A spokesman said: “We look forward to working with representatives from the member states, the Council and the Commission to ensure an orderly departure of the UK from the EU.”
Some were more heated. One senior banking industry figure who has worked in Brussels said: “I can’t see how it could be worse. It’s incredibly provocative. This is Juncker’s revenge on Britain.”
Jacques Lafitte, of the EU-focused Avisa investment advisory group, said: “After all these years that the City has demonised Michel Barnier, often unjustly, the Commission could not have sent a firmer message to the English.”
Conservative MEP and leading Brexit campaigner Daniel Hannan said: “Michel Barnier is an old-style Euro-integrationist.
“He wants the EU to be something like a single country.
“Well, good luck to him. Once Britain leaves, that will be a much more feasible outcome. We should aim to ensure that the process of Brexit is cordial and mutually beneficial.”
Mr Barnier, 65, insists his spats with then Chancellor George Osborne were “good spirited” but he reportedly once made Sir Mervyn King, then governor of the Bank of England, so angry the usually-cool boss shook with rage for an hour afterwards.
Yesterday Mr Barnier said he was “honoured” by the new role while Mr Juncker hailed his experience.