Since the conclusion of Brexit, former EU negotiator Michel Barnier has been keeping himself busy, releasing his own 'secret journal' of the talks and wading into the Jersey fishing row to claim 'the British are behaving like buccaneers.' For years the former French foreign minister was the toast of Britain's Remainers, meeting Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve and Chuka Umunna in the middle of negotiations with Theresa May to discuss 'ideas and solutions'. European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez lavished praise on him with Jean-Caude Juncker particularly applauding his efforts to maintain the unity of the 27 member states against the UK.
But now though the one-time Europhile hero appears to be having second thoughts about one of the fundamental 'four freedoms' central to the European project – freedom of movement. Speaking on France Télévisions, Barnier suggested what sounded suspiciously like an 'emergency break' on immigration, proposing a ban on migrants to France for between three to five years, as he told host Caroline Roux:
“I have not changed my position, and the problems with immigration are not moderate. As the politician I am, I try to look at the problems as they are, in the way the French people live them every day and to find solutions and I think that effectively we need to take some time over three to five years and suspend immigration. I’m not talking about students, I’m not talking about refugees who must be treated with humanity and strength, but we need to rebuild the whole process. We need to talk to our neighbours about the Schengen Agreement, we possibly need to put in stricter border controls…
Roux then interjected to point out that on Europe's exterior border some 2,000 migrants had landed in Italy over the last few days, to which Barnier replied:
“Borders outside of Europe. We have the idea of creating 10,000 border guard posts that we should put in place, and then talk with other countries, other regions to work out where these immigrants are coming from, in terms of the fight against human trafficking, and to return people to their countries. Those are the three big areas to explore in order to find a solution to immigration, which is not working today.
But would such a proposal even be legal under the EU's own system? It is worth revisiting what one, err, Michel Barnier said back in December 2016 with regards to Brexit: 'The single market and its four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry picking is not an option.'
Mr S wonders what changed to the onetime Europhile pin up but suspects we could soon hear such talk emanating from the Élysée Palace given Barnier's obvious enthusiasm for one last shot at the French presidency.