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“A spirit of goodwill”: Michel Barnier welcomes the Brexit plan in Northern Ireland | Michael Barnier

Former EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier hailed the Northern Ireland deal between the EU and the UK government as a positive step that turns a page in relations between the two sides.

In an interview with the Guardian, the veteran French politician said the Windsor Framework Agreement signed by Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last month ‘operationalised’ the Ireland protocol. of the North that he had negotiated with the British government in 2019. “There was a spirit of good will for the first time in three years, to find concrete, operational and realistic solutions.

Boris Johnson, who agreed to the protocol in 2019, had shown the ‘will’ to strike a deal, but Barnier ‘immediately lost faith’ in the then UK prime minister less than a year later when his government published a bill that allowed ministers to unilaterally rewrite the Brexit deal, a breach of international law. “It wasn’t good will, it was bad faith, because they signed this [Brexit withdrawal] deal and there were no surprises,” Barnier said.

Sunak’s “new attitude” who was “much more responsible” opened the door to better relations with the EU, Barnier said, dropping similar unilateral threats, including the Northern Ireland Bill. “It opens a new page, it removes the sword of Damocles above our heads from the non-application of the Irish protocol. We now have the conditions to look to the future, ”said Barnier, referring to the cooperation on Ukraine, defense and the climate crisis.

In a separate interview, a former senior Barnier adviser, Georg Riekeles, echoed the view that the EU lacked a trusted counterpart under Sunak’s two predecessors. “Boris Johnson represented so much of this zero-sum game approach to international relations…He represented Trumpian politics for the EU and what does it mean if you make a deal with the guy who would stand for that kind of politics ?”

Ahead of a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Barnier said he expected the Windsor Protocol to come into force, despite the Democratic Unionist Party’s decision to oppose it. He was speaking before it emerged that hardline Tory backbenchers had also rejected the plan, despite the eurosceptic faction being less influential than they were under Theresa May’s tenure.

Barnier rejected suggestions that he could have made similar concessions to May, such as the state aid and VAT flexibilities that were given to Sunak. He said there was not enough time to finalize these details during the previous negotiation. “My mandate was not to immediately find all the technical solutions. It was to create the framework and we did it with Irish protocol.

British officials may question this claim. Even EU officials noted that the Commission used a little-noticed clause in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement intended to ‘correct errors’ and ‘correct omissions and other shortcomings’ in a maximalist way, probably not considered by Barnier’s team.

The commission had gone “to the limit” on state aid and VAT flexibilities, Barnier said, but he saw no difficulty if both sides acted in good faith, adding that any attempt by the British to pursue a dumping policy (unfair competition) would cause problems.

He issued a cautious note on the Stormont brake, which allows the UK government to veto changes to EU laws in Northern Ireland, after a decision by 30 members of the Belfast assembly. “We will judge in due time on the use of this agreement. I hope this will be in the interest of both parties.

Meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, EU affairs ministers from the 27 member states approved key elements of the Windsor deal, including the Stormont brake, as well as changes to customs, VAT and state aid.

The former French foreign minister, who aspired to become the centre-right presidential candidate in 2021, played down hopes of an imminent deal between the EU and the UK to handle asylum seekers crossing the Sleeve. “The first step must be for the Europeans to build a real migration and visa policy at 27. If the 27 agree, they can then discuss with the British.”

The EU has been deadlocked in migration policy reform talks since more than a million people sought asylum in 2015, suggesting a deal with the British was not imminent. Barnier does not disagree: “Everything takes time in Europe: the 27 do not have the same position on this issue.

In his book on Brexit, the former EU negotiator predicted that Keir Starmer would be a future prime minister. He said the prediction was made in 2018 and he had always believed the Labor leader had “statesman’s qualities” but that the EU would work with any UK government. Better relationships also couldn’t wait, he suggested: “I think now is the time. If we don’t build this cooperation now, when will we? »


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