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May 27, 2022

TWO dysfunctional unions went to war with each other after the Brexit vote in 2016 when the European Union busily conscripted republicans in Ireland and Scotland in a bid to break up the United Kingdom as a negotiating tactic.

Their field marshal Michel Barnier built on his fellow French hero General Charles de Gaulle’s love of Ireland and apparent affinity with people in its republican southern rump to punish English, Welsh, Scottish and northern Irish unionists by dividing UK negotiators bidding for a fair and thorough agreement on the UK’s exit from the Brussels-based Eurocracy.

Again and again, Barnier tells us in a humourless and self-satisfied tone in his book My Secret Brexit Diary, Polity Press, translated from French, that he did not set out to punish and penalise us for voting OUT when we finally had the chance then again and again he contradicts himself in the agonised, seemingly endless furiously fraught four years’ of talks to 2020 by maintaining a typically French intense and crippling ideological rigidity, unhelpful indignant and disapproving deeply judgemental mien and tone with an undisguised bias against anyone who did not proudly fly the EU’s pathetic pseudo flag and its concocted collaboration and consensus deliberately designed to trap everyone in a bizarre self-certifying artificial bubble with little to no real appreciation of what life was really like for ordinary mainland European citizens.

Citizens like the two teenaged girls from Murcia, Spain, who told me recently how low their minimum wage is compared to other countries’ and how high the level of financial corruption is among their politicians and royals, forcing them like many others to relocate here.

Barnier bought a walking stick for Tory David Davis in a carefully rehearsed and formulaic charm offensive by giving a present at the outset as the two locked horns before Davis resigned as Theresa May steered repeatedly straight into walls in a suicidal ride but he doesn’t tell us if he paid for it or if it came out of the EU’s budget. Similarly, exactly where the proceeds of sales of his book are going is not explained, either. This is a clear indication that he was shielded from harsh economic realities, as were all his “sherpas” who do not pay national income tax as part of their contracts with the EU and live a life of luxury jetting from one European city to another to maintain the myth of a united front.

Davis was an elected representative who could and did resign from his post and faced an electorate who could kick him out but Barnier, like the Eurocrats around him, was in a job for life totally unelected and free of accountability.

Wales had four members who were elected by an infinitesimal sliver of the total population in elections hardly anyone bothered to vote in, trousering massive pay and perks on the Brussels gravy train but on the one occasion when I needed them (a Spanish hospital sent me a bill even though I had told them I had a valid European health card) they were ineffective. What, I wondered, was the point of them and, indeed, of it.

The concept of universal rights to free health care for all EU citizens was one of the benefits of membership but in countries where private arrangements predominate or there is a two-tier system, a toothless EU was still trumped by hospital accountants and powerless to act.

Not enough was ever done by Barnier et al to convince us of the merits of membership and even now I vividly remember most their memorable stiffness and painful inability to innovate creatively, properly engage and sell their vision of happy, profitable harmony in a mutually beneficial trade and customs market which could have worked for most but appeared to be only for a select few, endlessly emphasising barriers, regulated borders and strict quotas as, again, an apparent direct contradiction of openness and freedom which was supposed to be behind the experiment.

This “functioning” alliance was deliberately set against his completely certain idea of the UK as a dysfunctional outlier whose colonialist past allied to natural suspicion of Johnny Foreigner he clearly detested and whose stubborn resistance to single currencies, single markets and, indeed, anything single sourced in Brussels, he clearly never fully was able to accept as being a valid or properly mature response for the British to hold or, indeed, any other sceptical citizens languishing under strict controls and high fees in other European countries to fund an ever expanding self congratulatory and self-certifying political experiment like the Welsh government.

Barnier – tall, dry and angular like de Gaulle, who, of course crushed our bid to join in 1967 because of ideological differences with France and Germany – was a strange choice by EU president Jean-Claude Junker to head a team of Brussels’s best brains in the Brexit negotiations in 2017 because he clearly had a very poor grasp of Britishness and the British.

The truth, of course, was that Barnier was a convenient front for the true decision makers German leader Angela Merkel and French leader Emmanuel Macron – who both refused to take calls from Boris Johnson in the crucial final stages of talks, instead using Barnier as a stick with which to beat the British – and a useful political symbol of mainland European loyalty, solidarity and interdependence, which he reinforced by visiting leaders of member states for responsibly sourced, sustainable and health standard certified organic wine and canape parties at glittering palaces and government edifices far from the madding crowds.

His favourite was the Irish republic’s Leo Varadkar and he noted that wee Nicola Sturgeon was the first to arrive in his office offering help and support in 2017 “a likeable woman who knows what she wants” closely followed by Carwyn Jones of Wales (remember him? no, I don’t either) “the jovial and very direct Labour leader” and Theresa May and Olly Robbins earned his respect for tenacity and stubborness in the abysmal first set of negotiations when he hoped he could pull the wool over our eyes and have us sign away our future prosperity meekly.

War criminal Tony Blair – who writes a promotional puff calling Barnier “one of the most experienced  and intelligent leaders in the world” on the back cover – is also lauded.

Other figures like Davis, David Frost, Dominic Raab (who seemed to incense him the most) Boris Johnson and, obviously anybody in the UKIP party, with the highest number of members, he reserved a particularly frosty reception for, offering them instead publicly grudging respect and privately insulting criticisms and supercilious headmasterly disapproval.

His apparent lack of self-awareness, irony, humour, self-doubt and psychological self-exploration or questioning  – not surprising in most gangsters without guns high-profile politicians – is evident on most pages of this book and after the irritation wears off becomes quite comical.

Deliriously and deliciously unaware of his own pomposity and remoteness safely surrounded by a constantly unconditionally supportive and combative highly capable and skilled multi-national team of English speaking (it was the fact that they were speaking English all the time that irked me most) aides and officials busying themselves at all hours drafting and re-drafting laws and rules in luxury hotels in London, Barnier frequently makes comments rich in comic appeal to evidence his bunker mentality.

“This negotiation certainly calls for flexibility and adaptation. The British are incapable of planning things in advance,” he writes (if only he could  have listened  to himself).

On the pompous prig John Bercow, disgraced former speaker of the House of Commons, “British parliamentary debate will certainly be all the poorer for the loss of his voice, colourful ties and, above all, his great  competence in the role”.  

A second negotiation begins in 2020 with an emboldened Boris boosted by a massive  majority.

In deeds, nothing really cooks until Boris links with German politician Ursula von der Layen, with more natural affinity to and familiarity with London and a more practical, upbeat approach, in the final weeks, days and minutes to December 24, 2020, when the UK prised open previously locked doors to win new last minute concessions.”The British want us to believe they are not afraid of a no deal. On one point we all agreee: they have opted against working towards a rational and constructive agreement.”

Tensions were ramped up and tempers flared with a sea border on the island of Ireland again raising temperatures beyond boiling point. Barnier writes  on September 8, 2020: “The truth is that by acting in this way, the British government is doing nothing less than political filibustering. The threat is a betrayal of their word. It seems they will stop at nothing. Perhaps most seriously for me, I do not feel that the team currently in 10 Downing Street is equal to the challenges of Brexit and what is at stake in it, nor to the responsibility they bear for having brought Brexit upon themselves. I simply don’t trust them any more and we need trust to make a deal on our future  relationship.”

Barnier became marginalised and sidelined by Merkel and Macron’s favoured few and now history will judge him as a tone deaf Eorocratic non-entity whose spectacular failure to switch from red stop signs to an orange glow in advance of a possible green for go will serve as an effective motif for the institution he served, frozen still in principled precaution and punishment and a million miles away from real people’s concerns.

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