A French politician on Wednesday, was named to represent Brussels in negotiations on Britain’s exit from the European Union.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker selected Michel Barnier, a former EU commissioner and centre-right French foreign and agriculture minister, in a choice that may antagonise Britain’s eurosceptic Conservatives.
In London, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain looked forward to working “with representatives from the member states, the Council and the Commission to ensure an orderly departure of the UK from the EU”.
“Hard to think of a more anti-British figure. Declaration of war,” Tom Newton Dunn, political editor of the pro-Brexit Sun newspaper, said on Twitter.
London’s Evening Standard daily branded Barnier the “scourge of the City” – the financial district of the British capital.
However, a former British Europe minister, Denis MacShane of the pro-European opposition Labour party, said Barnier was “pro-Brit but also pro-EU”, and had the experience to understand that key decisions on future ties would be taken in Berlin, Paris and other national capitals rather than by anyone in Brussels.
Barnier will take up his post on Oct. 1, the EU executive said in a statement. He will report directly to Juncker and have the rank of a director-general of a Commission department, with all necessary resources at his disposal.
Barnier, 65, was a commissioner from 2010 to 2014, in charge of internal market and services. He was involved in reforms of financial services and in the establishment of a European banking union with a single supervisor for euro zone banks.
Juncker said Barnier was a skilled negotiator with rich experience in major policy areas and an extensive network of contacts in the capitals of EU member states.
“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said in the statement. “I am sure that he will live up to this new challenge and help us to develop a new partnership with the United Kingdom after it will have left the European Union.”
May has said she does not expect to trigger the EU treaty’s Article 50 exit clause before the end of this year. She has taken soundings on initial visits to Berlin, Paris and Rome and spoken by telephone with the heads of EU institutions. But her government has yet to determine what kind of relationship it wants with the bloc after it withdraws.
Opinions among leading Conservatives range from a simple free trade agreement to as complete an access to the EU’s single market as possible, given the British electorate’s determination to control migration from EU countries. EU partners say freedom of movement of workers is a pivotal condition for market access.
It is also unclear who will lead the exit negotiations on the British side, although veteran Conservative eurosceptic David Davis, was appointed “Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union” in May’s cabinet.