Michel Barnier pinpoints greatest Brexit regret – but tells Keir Starmer ‘door is open’
by: Hani Kamal El-Din
Michel Barnier has revealed his greatest regret stemming from the Brexit vote in a tell-all interview.
The former EU Commission negotiator, who helped reshape the UK’s relationship with the EU from 2019 to 2021, was left “astonished” by aspects of the Conservative Government’s tactics.
He painstakingly negotiated the details of the separation agreement and resolutely told the Financial Times there was “no room” for manoeuvre regarding the current framework.
But there is some space, he said, for “future PM” Sir Keir Starmer to “improve the functioning of the agreement”.
He has focused on one particular aspect of the deal that he said could use some improvement; the UK-EU Erasmus exchange scheme.
Erasmus became a controversial aspect of the Brexit agreement in 2020 when it was revealed the then Government planned to exit the programme and replace it with the home-grown Turing Scheme.
The unexpected move, which came after Boris Johnson had assured MPs there was “no threat to the Erasmus scheme”, meant British students lost access to EU institutions, and EU students lost access to the UK.
Mr Barnier was among those who regretted the decision, which was described as a “real sadness”, and he has suggested the scheme is one of few the UK could eventually rejoin under Sir Keir.
He told the Financial Times: “The door is open, particularly for Erasmus.”
Sir Keir, who is tipped to become the UK’s next Prime Minister, has said he would like to rethink EU-UK relations after a turbulent few years.
Mr Barnier once praised the Labour leader, writing in his book My Secret Brexit Diary that he was impressed by “his ability to grasp in detail what is at stake in Brexit negotiations”, and believed he would “one day be UK prime minister”.
But he has poured cold water on plans by David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, to comb through the UK-EU trade agreement “page by page” and renegotiate.
He told the party “good luck” while accepting other aspects of the plan seemed “pragmatic and possible”.
Sir Keir has said there is “no case” for going back to the EU, customs union or single market, but has a softer stance on the issue compared to Conservatives.
He has previously said he doesn’t “want to diverge” from EU rules and that, while remaining outside European institutions, “the more we share a future together”.