Brexit: Michel Barnier gives update on state of negotiations
The EU’s chief negotiator Mr Barnier has said he still has the firm belief that a trade agreement with Britain is possible. As talks between the EU and the UK resumed in Brussels on Monday, the French politician briefed ambassadors and MEPs on the state of play, implying the number of key issues blocking a deal had been reduced from three to two: fair competition rules and fishing rights. The tone from Downing Street was also more positive, in contrast to last week’s message from Prime Minister Boris Johnson who said a no deal outcome was a “strong possibility”.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma also said: “The fact that we’re continuing to have these discussions shows that there is an opportunity to try and make some progress.
“Our intention is not to walk away. We will continue to talk as long as there is the possibility of reaching a deal.”
As the clock ticks down, a 2014 interview with Mr Barnier has resurfaced, which suggests what the Brexit negotiator could do next in his career.
With the trade talks soon coming to an end, Mr Barnier might decide to replace Ursula von der Leyen as President of the European Commission when she finishes her term.
Six years ago, Mr Barnier did say he was ready for the top job.
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Portuguese Conservative José Manuel Barroso was heading the Commission at the time.
The French daily Le Figaro asked Mr Barnier if he could confirm his candidacy, and he replied: “If I am chosen by the European People’s Party, I am ready to commit myself.”
The publication also asked him to sketch the Commission’s next priorities.
He said the current Commission had been preoccupied with crisis management, but “the next five years must allow Europe to take the initiative”.
He added: “Industrial strategy, infrastructure policy, the single market, security, immigration.
“Those are the areas where the Commission must set the common European interest free and act as a stimulus.”
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Mr Barnier’s hopes, though, were crushed by former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who was chosen as the lead candidate of the conservative centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) at a party congress in Dublin two months later.
Mr Juncker beat his French rival with a first tally among EPP delegates showing he secured 382 votes to Mr Barnier’s 245.
Delegates included German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In July, 2014, the Luxembourgish politician replaced Mr Barroso as EU chief.
From 2015, Mr Barnier served as unpaid special adviser on European defence policy to Mr Juncker.
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The following year, after the Brexit referendum, the French politician was announced as the European Commission’s chief negotiator with the UK over leaving the European Union, under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
Commenting on the appointment, Mr Juncker said: “I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job.”
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts claimed he could see a surprise candidate becoming President of the Commission one day: Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
He said: “Nicola Sturgeon comes across as a genuine person, politically astute and someone whose word can be trusted, whereas Boris Johnson comes across very quickly as someone you can’t trust.
“I can imagine Nicola Sturgeon being president of the European Commission, she seems to be much closer to the centre of gravity of European politics than Boris Johnson is.”
Asked on whether an independent Scotland could join the EU, Mr Lamberts said: “Yes, the answer is a definite yes.”
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