We’ve reached peak Barnier

Chief EU negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

Brexit Files Insight

We’ve reached peak Barnier

The chief Brexit negotiator could be sidelined as talks go to the wire.


8/21/18, 2:39 PM CET

Updated 8/21/18, 2:43 PM CET

Michel Barnier has had an incredible run as the EU’s Brexit negotiator. But starting now, his luck and limelight are running out.

We may be about to hit peak Barnier.

When Jean-Claude Juncker in 2016 made the surprise move to appoint Barnier — his former rival for the post of European Commission president — few could have imagined that in summer 2018 we would be waking to headlines such as “EU’s Barnier throws Brexit bone to battered Theresa May” and “Michel Barnier kills off Theresa May’s Brexit customs proposals.”

Theresa May is the elected head of government of a nuclear-armed European power. Barnier is neither elected nor her appointed interlocutor, and he definitely doesn’t have the nuclear codes.

Yet his patrician manner, high-class team and Continent-crossing work ethic have led most to conclude that thus far he has run rings around the U.K. negotiating team.

Certainly, the U.K. wants to see the back of what they regard as Barnier’s inflexibility.

Piling up relationships in an effort to sustain EU solidarity didn’t hurt Barnier’s political future either.

Having been dealt that hand, Barnier played it deftly. His “clock is ticking” routine at press conferences worked because it had the undeniable ring of truth to it.

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