Former EU Brexit negotiator continues turn to the right
Michel Barnier has said he will not apologise for France’s “great” colonial history if he becomes president.
The EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator is running for head of state in his home country – and has tacked hard to the political right during the course of his campaign.
In a debate with other candidates on Sunday night, Mr Barnier was asked about France’s place in the world, and mounted a spirited defence of colonialism.
“Our country is a great country, with a great history. I am not in repentance, I will not apologise for our history," il a dit.
“We have a presence all over the world thanks to the French Overseas Territories. France is a great power and will remain so!”
The intervention may raise eyebrows in the UK, where Mr Barnier enjoyed the admiration of some liberals for his role negotiating against Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s governments.
But back in France Mr Barnier, who has always identified as a Gaullist from France’s centre-right conservative establishment, has presented a very different image.
In his push to win the centre-right nomination for the Les Républicains party, Mr Barnier has sounded increasingly like the Brexiteer British government he once presented himself as the antithesis of.
The former chief negotiator, who enjoys less fame in his home country and is seen as an outside contender, kicked off the campaign by calling for a blanket ban on most immigration from outside the EU, with exceptions for students.
And in separate comments that could have come from a Tory minister, he called for restrictions on the jurisdiction of EU courts in France.
Mr Barnier’s approach has led to original Brexiteer Nigel Farage branding him “the biggest hypocrite ever born”, while Clément Beaune, France’s Europe minister, said he had “destroyed the image that he himself created”.
France’s presidential election will be held in April next year, with Emmanuel Macron the favourite to retain the office. His main challengers are perennial far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, and insurgent far-right candidate Éric Zemmour, who has surged in the polls in recent months but remains in second place behind Mr Macron.