Matthew Lynn

Michel Barnier’s Brexit diary shows he needs a lesson in diplomacy

Michel Barnier's Brexit diary shows he needs a lesson in diplomacy
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David Davis was ‘truculent’. Dominic Raab was ‘almost messianic’. Theresa May was ‘rigid. While Boris Johnson kept asking to borrow a tenner and whether it would be okay if Carrie joined the meeting. 

Okay, I made that last one up, but the rest are among the startling revelations contained in Michel Barnier’s Brexit diary, published in France this week, and due to come out in the UK in the autumn. 

From the extracts so far, ‘The Great Illusion’, to give it is full-title, seems to be fairly standard Europhile stuff. Indeed, if you are stuck for what to give that special Remainer in your life for Christmas it will do perfectly. 

The UK didn’t understand what it was voting for. The negotiations were dominated by Tory in-fighting. The process was marked by betrayals, thwarted ambitions, and faded delusions of power. The British were consummately outplayed by the far smarter, more united team from Brussels, led by the formidable French politician. It is all much as you might expect.

And yet, there is also a more interesting question. Why is Barnier publishing a diary at all? After all, shouldn’t the negotiations have remained confidential? 

Britain’s departure was always going to be a delicate process, with lots of fraught nerves on both sides of the table. Feelings had been wounded, and dignity had to be maintained. Both the British and EU side were entitled to advance positions, and explore options, without worrying about whether everything they said was going to be published a year or two later, with a few snide, personal digs thrown in. There are lots of different words you could use to describe that. But ‘diplomatic’ probably wouldn’t be among them.

Of course, the diary may advance Barnier's ambitions for the French presidency. There is still a space on the centre-right in the 2022 race. And if president Macron falters, Barnier may be able to stake a claim to the Elysee Palace. Sniping at the hopeless, dishonest Brits is seldom a bad look for anyone running for office in France (and neither is the reverse, come to think of). 

Barnier's diary may also help settle a few personal scores; it will certainly allow him to get his version of events public at a time when it is not yet clear the negotiations have been the triumph for the EU he likes to claim they were. Even so, it is hardly courteous, or indeed helpful, especially as there will inevitably be more negotiations to come. 

Barnier is quick to lecture the other side when it comes to self-interest, and a lack of basic diplomacy. Yet it doesn’t seem to have occurred to him that he might be guilty of that himself.