March 11, 2024

This book is written by the EUs chief Brexit negotiator and details his involvement with a series of British ministers after the Brexit vote in 2016. What this book really highlights is that the critical and more fundamental negotiations were taking place in London, within the Conservative Party, over what level of disengagement from Europe’s institutions was acceptable.

He’s an intelligent observer of UK politics. It’s significant that the paragraph below follows-on from a description of an intervention by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

As for Theresa May, her speech at the close of the Conservative Party conference was marked by several incidents: a coughing fit, a prankster brandishing a P45, the letters of the party slogan falling off the wall behind her… I don’t want to laugh at this, let alone mock her for it. She is a courageous and tenacious woman surrounded by a great many men who are more interested in their personal fortunes than in the future of their country.”

Or a visit from Nigel Farage…

Farage is as cordial and mild in private as he can be a violent demagogue in public. The conversation lasts for thirty minutes. He is quite obviously not interested in me, but only in coming to see me so that he can show off about it later to the numerous journalists waiting for him in the pub opposite the Berlaymont.”

It’s fascinating to see the UK setting out their position of fully withdrawing from European institutions while at the same time wishing to exert some control over Europe during the transitional stage. Having the cake and eating it!

Under the influence of Keir Starmer, who understands the issues very well, Labour was the first, last summer, to call for a four-year transition nod. Among my British interlocutors, Starmer, always courteous and professional, is without doubt, along with Hilary Benn, chair of the House of Commons’ Exiting the EU Committee, the one who impresses me the most for his ability to grasp in detail what is at stake in the Brexit negotiations. Listening to him I get the feeling that Keir Starmer will one day be UK Prime Minister.”

I’m sceptical of how many good friends’ Michel Barnier has across Europe. He clearly takes for granted the gravy train’ of travel around Europe’s member states and that is not limited to him.

Somewhat surprisingly the drama of the negotiations drops-off during Mr Johnson’s term as prime minister and I found there was less material of interest in the second half of the book. However, overall, I found this an interesting insight (perhaps one-sided, but arguably more neutral than the other side’s) into a period of time that will affect future generations.


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