French election 2022: The one candidate Boris Johnson is truly terrified of

Michel Barnier says Brexit could happen in other EU nations

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In April 2022, the electorate of France will head to the polls to elect a new president. Jostling for the position has already begun, With Marine Le Pen already throwing her hat in the ring to try to dethrone Emmanuel Macron. But there is one candidate who is said to be particularly worrying for Boris Johnson: Michel Barnier.

The Republicans’ candidate for the presidency hasn’t been decided yet, but speculation is growing that Mr Barnier could pose the greatest threat to Emmanuel Macron.

Brexit watchers will remember Michel Barnier as the EU’s chief negotiator in pre-Covid times, when getting a Brexit deal dominated headlines and a pandemic wasn’t on anyone’s radar.

He was the face of an increasingly frustrated EU as negotiations dragged on, remaining steadfast in his red lines, and is largely responsible for the Brexit deal we have today.

Three years ago, Mr Barnier said of the potential for an undesirable deal: “I see the temptation of a’ blame game’ by which the European Union is responsible for the negative consequences of Brexit, but that will not sway us. That will not sway me.”

This firm hand and unshakeable loyalty to the bloc is, according to some sources, precisely the reason the UK will not want him leading France.

Writing for the Independent, former Europe minister Denis MacShane said: “The ruling English are waking up to their worst nightmare.”

He added: “With Angela Merkel gone, the champion of Europe internationally is Emmanuel Macron – much to the fury of the London political elites who are desperate to prove Brexit a success model for other European nations.

“Now they fear that even if Macron is defeated, his replacement will be the most committed European in French politics over four decades – Michel Barnier.”

Mr Barnier is, indeed, a committed European, who has long been dedicated to ensuring the stability and continuity of the bloc.

Speaking to The Times, he said that his long experience of European politics could induce change in Brussels to offset widespread disaffection with the EU.

He depicted President Macron as a solitary and elitist leader who had divided the country and fuelled the French reputation for “arrogance” abroad.

He suggested that his inclusive approach could reconcile public opinion around a conservative agenda while ending the country’s isolation on the international stage.

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He even said he’d seek to learn lessons from those in the UK who voted for Brexit out of dissatisfaction with the EU.

“We must take account of the lessons of Brexit and of the sentiment of the people which expressed itself in the UK on many subjects, and which we find here, too,” he said.

Without reforms to Europe’s immigration, trade and industrial policies, “there will be other Brexits and I do not want other Brexits”.

Speaking at a rally in Montreuil-Juigné, a small town in western France, Mr Barnier said Mr Macron had lacked a “clear vision” when he won power and had taken as long as four years to come up with policies on issues such as crime, immigration and nuclear energy.

He was made of sterner stuff, he said promising “my hand will not tremble”.

When Mr Barnier began campaigning to take on the centre-right candidacy, there was little hope for his success, though the tide now appears to be turning.

Brice Hortefeux, a former interior minister who is among the senior Republicans who have backed Barnier in recent days, told him: You can be our Joe Biden.”

And François Cornut-Gentille, a Republicans MP, said: “He ticks all the boxes.

“People are looking for a presidential figure. He can embody it.”

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