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Michel Barnier says UK should find a 'clever solution' to row over EU ambassador in London

The EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator was awarded the European of the Year award by EM Ireland today.

Image: YouTube/EM Ireland

THE EU’S FORMER Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said that a “clever solution” should be found to a diplomatic row, where the UK is refusing to give the EU’s ambassador to London full diplomatic status.

The UK is refusing the ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida this status based on the EU being an organisation rather than a nation; but this is in contrast to other non-EU countries’ approach.

Barnier said that he understood that things cannot stay the same after Brexit, but said that “it would be wise” if a solution were to be found.

The EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator was speaking as the European Movement Ireland awarded Barnier as ‘European of the Year’, and is the first non-Irish citizen to win it.

In a Q&A session after receiving the award, Barnier said it was very important to him that “we have to understand why 52% of the British people voted against Europe. There are reasons. We have to listen, we have to understand, we have to answer”. 

“It’s too late for the UK, but it’s not too late for other member states. We have to be pro-active to draw the lessons,” Barnier said. “I have no longer this feeling that another EU member state would be tempted to leave, but we have to be vigilant.” 

In his speech accepting the award, Barnier said that Brexit for Ireland was less about trade and customs, and more about “maintaining peace and stability”, and so he and his team tried to be “particularly attentive” to all the different communities in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Addressing the pro-Brexit argument of sovereignty over close unity, Barnier said that national and European sovereignty should be pulled together, rather than pulled apart: “They go together like these two flags behind me.”

Why should we leave the EU debate to anti-EU parties? Why? … For all those who believe in the EU project, this is not the time to sit back and be complacent.

The former French minister also used a number of phrases as Gaeilge, including “ní neart go chur le chéile”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that Barnier’s “resourcefulness and integrity”, and ”consistent, fair, de-dramatised” approach made a Brexit deal possible.

He praised Barnier’s “very particular bond between you and people in Ireland”, recognising challenges facing Ireland and the importance of protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that during the arduous Brexit talks, that Barnier “never faltered”. 

“You asked for one thing when this is all over: a quiet and peaceful fishing trip in Ireland,” Coveney said.

In the last weeks of the trade negotiations, Barnier said that Coveney spoke to him two or three times a week on fish stocks with “a lot of competence, it’s not so often that a Foreign Affairs minister is so competent on fisheries”.

It had been reported by the Telegraph that Barnier has become an adviser on the Brexit agreements to the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. Barnier confirmed this, and said that it would only be for a few weeks – perhaps two months.

The European Movement (EM) Ireland is an independent, not-for-profit organisation, that works to develop the connection between Ireland and the European Union. 

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The ‘European of the Year’ award recognises and honours individuals and organisations that have made outstanding contributions to developing the connections and the relationship between Ireland and Europe.

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