John Keiger

Revealed: Michel Barnier and France’s Brexit stitch-up

Revealed: Michel Barnier and France's Brexit stitch-up
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The glaring difference between the EU and British negotiating goals has been brought into plain sight. In readiness for the upcoming Barnier-Frost negotiations, the French senate produced for the French government a set of requirements that Michel Barnier should work to in the negotiations. Those recommendations, which it published on 6 March, are extremely hardline. If Britain were to accept even a few of the key objectives, it could undermine Brexit. Given president Macron’s power in the European Council it is safe to say that most, if not all, of the recommendations will figure prominently in Barnier’s negotiating file. Frost will have to be on his guard to resist them when talks get underway.

Between 2017 and 2 March 2020 the French senate, through a series of ‘Brexit’ committees, held regular hearings –including with Michel Barnier – and drafted reports on the implications of Brexit for France and the EU. The lead commission was that on European Affairs, presided over by senator Jean Bizet. The final senate document organised what it called the ‘negotiating mandate’ for the government under these headings:

- Economic partnership

- Fishing

- Financial services

- Intellectual property

- Protection of consumers

- Climate change and the environment

- Transport

- Domestic security and judicial cooperation

- Partnership in foreign policy, security and defence

- Governance of the future partnership and the mechanism for settling differences

- Tracking of the withdrawal agreement in relation to citizens’ rights

- Northern Ireland

- The conduct of negotiations

Beneath each of these are particular goals to be achieved. But the document insists that any agreement has to be on the totality of the recommendations, which it declares ‘indissolubly linked’. Of particular importance from the British point of view are the starkly uncompromising statements on fishing and financial services.

On fishing, which the senate deems to have a ‘very high potential level of conflictuality’, it restates its ‘principled opposition to any outcome that would lead to the fishing question being a reserved and specific issue, in the form of a sectoral Brexit, whose first victims would end up being the Union’s fishermen’. Consequently, the document makes a fishing agreement a sine qua non of any economic agreement with Britain.

In financial services, which I discussed last week in The Spectator, the document calls for the end of passporting, the use of more tightly defined and constantly reviewed equivalences, the transfer to the continent of all euro-denominated systems, control of regulatory divergence and strict rules to stop the use of ‘name-plate’ entities on the continent.

The document also insists on ‘the exclusive competence’ of the European Court of Justice to interpret EU law. It demands that its decisions should bind the Special Arbitration Panel, which will regulate disagreements between the EU and the UK.

Significantly, the senate affirms that an agreement with Britain implies ‘a strong regulatory convergence between the United Kingdom and the Union over the long term and therefore a dynamic harmonisation of norms and rules.’

Overall the document could have been written by the European Commission itself, or indeed Michel Barnier, so closely does it conform to Brussels thinking. It is clear evidence that France has, and will continue to have, a key role in deciding the outcome of the negotiations. 

More than ever Michel Barnier appears to be the Gaullist French foreign minister that he once was; although ironically General de Gaulle wanted to keep Britain out, whereas Barnier’s mandate is to keep Britain in. It is also clear that, were Britain to concede on even half of the recommendations regarding dynamic alignment, it would sabotage any parallel agreements with the US or Australia, as well as being Brexit in name only. David Frost, a French scholar, historian of France by training and self-declared Gaullist, will have to be on his mettle to maintain Britain out against Barnier’s Britain in.

Written byJohn Keiger

John Keiger is a professor of French history and former Research Director of the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge

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