A woman holds a dog outside the Houses of Parliament during an anti-Brexit event in London on Sunday. Agence France-Presse
Brussels: One man in Brussels who will be counting every vote in British parliament on Tuesday is Michel Barnier, the EU’s negotiator whose legacy hangs on the success of Brexit.
When Britain’s Theresa May struck her ill-loved withdrawal deal with Barnier last November, the breakthrough was hailed as a personal victory for the former French minister and even sparked talk of him reaching higher office.
But the deal’s drubbing in British Parliament a month later and its uncertain fate in a second attempt on March 12, have put off any victory lap and stoked fears that all could still go very badly, with less than three weeks to go before the March 29 deadline.
“The EU stands united. We are not interested in the blame game, we are interested in the result,” a testy Barnier said after he briefed EU ambassadors on Brexit on Friday.
The union’s chief negotiator, a veteran French politician whose best days were seen as behind him, has seemed to relish the challenge of wrangling with Britain and keeping the Europeans together.
Perhaps prematurely, he beamed in November when he stepped up to announce the draft accord, the fruit of what he described as 17 months of “very intense negotiations.”
“There’s no more green. White is the new green,” he said as he leafed triumphantly through the 585-page withdrawal agreement, joking about the coloured ink used on passages still under debate.
When Britain voted in June 2016 to leave the EU, there were fears in Brussels that it could trigger a domino effect that would see the bloc splinter.
The deal being pushed through parliament won’t keep Britain in, but Barnier has been hailed by his peers for keeping the other 27 members united behind his negotiating strategy till the end.
And in doing so, he revived his own career, perhaps even placing himself in line once again for the post he was passed over for in 2014 - president of the European Commission.
“Barnier demonstrated flexibility and great political savvy in the negotiations. His job was to keep the 27 together and to have a frank dialogue with the British,” said Jean-Dominique Giuliani of the Robert Schuman Foundation.
“The 27 have always backed him up and trusted him,” he added.