EU failure to blame for Brexit, Barnier admits in staggering climb down

Brexit: Barnier says agreement ‘not respected by London’

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The former European Commissioner said “there are of course lessons to be learned from Brexit” and insisted that it would be wrong to dismiss Britain’s decision to leave the EU simply as an act of “populism”. Instead, he acknowledged that Britons felt “abandoned” by the EU and were concerned, as citizens of other European nations are concerned, by EU-related issues, including uncontrolled immigration.

Talking to French journalist Jean-Sébastien Ferjou for Atlantico, Mr Barnier said that by voting for Brexit, Britons expressed a “popular feeling”.

He said: “It is a feeling of abandonment, of not being protected enough by Europe, of no longer having a future, no more proper public services, no more factories for young people, or of being subjected to uncontrolled immigration.

“These British concerns exist elsewhere in Europe and they exist in France.”

He added that “we must understand them, listen to them and respond to them”.

Mr Barnier is running to be elected the next President of France.

He said that his understanding of what led to Brexit will help him to lead France and to prevent a future ‘Frexit’.

Mr Barnier never goes so far as to suggest Britain was right to leave the EU, the subtitle of his new book on Brexit reading “The Grand Illusion”.

While Mr Barnier identifies as a European, he insisted that he is first and foremost a French “patriot”.

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He added that a range of issues – including immigration policy, national security and economic recoveries – should be dealt with on a national, rather than a European level.

He said: “There are, of course, issues that we must deal with ourselves because no one will come and deal with them for us.”

But others should be dealt with cooperatively in order to prevent France from being “dominated and subcontracted to the Americans and the Chinese”.

Despite his close ties to the EU, Mr Barnier has argued in his presidential election campaign that certain powers should be handed back from Brussels to Paris.

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In September, he told The Guardian: “[A] recalibration between the national and the European levels is what I want to do in France.”

Talking to Mr Ferjou, he also noted that current President Emmanuel Macron has not led France in the “right way”.

He was particularly critical of the manner in which Mr Macron has pursued his international relations, appearing as though he was “giving lessons” to other world leaders.

Instead, and in order to prevent anti-EU sentiment from growing in France, Mr Barnier said “we need to regain the link of trust with the other countries”.

He said: “This will be my strategy, as it was to build unity among the 27 for Brexit [as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator].”

Additional reporting Maria Ortega.

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