Last month Steerpike revealed which politicians are set to release books after putting their respective lockdowns to good use. But it appeared Mr S missed one looming literary attraction – the release of Michel Barnier's forthcoming memoirs about the Brexit talks. Barnier, who held the role of the European Union's chief Brexit negotiator between 2016 and 2021, is releasing his 'secret journal' tomorrow in which he focuses on the role of Conservative infighting shaped Britain's departure from the EU.
Thus far, the main revelations trailed in today's newspapers include the bombshells that (shock) the Frenchman was repelled by Johnson's 'baroque personality' and that the former mayor of London was 'not serious' in Barnier's eyes. One episode that seems straight out of Bridget Jones's Diary is when Britain's top negotiator David Frost turned up 45 minutes late for lunch, apparently without explanation, while in another the now ennobled Frost temporarily walked away from the negotiation table on the grounds that 'to save face, he therefore creates drama.'
Barnier's book has been puffed up in respectful and worthy terms – as befits a work that has been universally described as 'short on political bombshells' and resisting 'the urge to paint vindictive pen portraits of those with whom he crosses paths.' This will no doubt come as a surprise to Frost who is reproached for his demeanour on the day the post-Brexit trade deal was signed, with the duo's final exchange described as merely 'professional and cold' – perhaps unsurprising after four years of exhaustive negotiations. The former French minister of foreign affairs even adds a Partridge-esque swipe about having the last laugh, writing:
“He knows that I know that until the last moment he wanted to bypass me by seeking to open a parallel negotiating line with the cabinet of President Ursula von der Leyen. And he knows it hasn't been successful.
But is Barnier's account the full story? Not according to those involved in the British side of negotiations. One exasperated source who was intimately involved told Steerpike they were not surprised by the previews thus far, saying:
“the British team had to get used to Barnier’s lengthy reminisces about his previous ministerial career, even if these, at times, seemed to take priority over actual negotiations to the increasing bemusement of his own team.
If such riveting accounts are anything to go by, looks like Barnier's book might struggle to get off the shelf.