Brexit was caused partly by “nostalgia for the past” that served no purpose in politics, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said. Barnier also points to feelings of abandonment and insecure local identities as causes.
In an interview with the New York Review of Books, Barnier identified “typically British” causes for the vote to leave, saying one was “the hope for a return to a powerful global Britain, nostalgia for the past”.
He also warned Tory leadership hopefuls that Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement was the only option for leaving the EU.
Barnier, a former EU financial services commissioner, who crossed swords with the City of London when he introduced tighter regulation after the financial crisis, said some Brexit voters had wanted to “speculate freely” without the restrictions of EU rules.
Returning to a familiar theme, he suggested others voted for Brexit because they felt abandoned and believed public services were in decline.
Speaking about anti-EU sentiment across the continent, he said: “People on the ground feel lost, that they have been abandoned; they feel their cultural identity is in danger … we have to respect these local identities.
“The more the economy is global, the more people need to be reassured that their roots will be respected.”
Asked whether it was possible for the EU to convince the UK to stay, he said it was probably too late, but added: “It’s not too late for other countries where we have exactly the same problems, including my own country.”
During the interview, conducted on the day Theresa May announced her resignation, Barnier declined to comment on the turmoil at Westminster, but described the British debate as “very stimulating”.
EU leaders reiterated this week they would not renegotiate the Brexit withdrawal agreement with the UK – a line they have repeated countless times during the six months since May signed the deal last November.
“If the UK wants to leave in an orderly manner, this treaty is the only option,” Barnier said. “If the choice is to leave without a deal – fine. If the choice is to stay in the EU – also fine.”
He also repeated negotiations on Britain’s future relationship with the EU could start immediately once the agreement was signed. “We are ready, we are waiting,” he said. [...]
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