Brexit power struggle: Barnier lifts lid on his feud with Juncker’s ‘Monster of Brussels’

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And he also took a bitter swipe at the UK for “wanting to have it both ways” in talks with the bloc. Mr Selmayr, often referred to as the “Monster of Brussels”, was a highly controversial figure, not least as a result of the circumstances in which he was appointed the Commission’s secretary-general.

Such discussions, by themselves, don’t shock me, except when it is about expressing directly to the British side ideas that are his, and of which we haven’t spoken

Michel Barnier

And in his new book, La Grande Illusion, Mr Barnier, the former EU Brexit negotiator, makes it clear he and the EU’s top civil servant did not exactly see eye to eye.

Referring to Mrs May’s chief Brexit negotiator, Mr Barnier wrote: “I know he directly sees Olly Robbins and speaks to him.

“Such discussions, by themselves, don’t shock me, except when it is about expressing directly to the British side ideas that are his, and of which we haven’t spoken.”

Mr Barnier, who is widely tipped to be pondering a tilt at the French Presidency next year, added: “From the beginning, the British side play it both ways, and are seeking to open with Martin Selmayr a second line of negotiation. And I see that he has a hard time resisting.”

Mr Barnier also revealed his attempts to discuss the situation with Mr Selmayr had been given short shrift.

He explained: “With his usual stamina, he tells me he has no time to take care of Brexit, that he has other things to do, including to save the trade agreement with the US and that he doesn’t speak to the British side.”

Mr Selmayr’s rapid appointment in February 2018 sparked considerable debate, with critics claiming it had been tainted by a lack of transparency.

He was initially appointed deputy secretary general, but minutes later, Mr Juncker told European Commissioners incumbent Alexander Italianer was retiring, with Mr Selmayr swiftly installed as his replacement.

Widespread reports suggested Mr Juncker himself threatened to retire if the controversy led to Mr Selmayr being dismissed.

The following month the Commission issued a statement insisting Mr Selmayr’s appointment had been in accordance with legal procedures.

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European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly investigated and found instances of “maladministration”, concluding the Commission “did not follow EU law” – but her findings were rejected by Mr Juncker and his colleagues.

Mr Selmayr was also at the centre of an extraordinary row in 2017 after details of a behind-closed-doors meeting between Mrs May and Mr Juncker in Brussels were leaked to the media.

A report in German newspaper claimed May had “begged” Mr Juncker for help, with Mr Juncker allegedly telling colleagues the UK Prime Minister had looked “despondent”, “anxious” and “disheartened.”

Nick Timothy, Mrs May’s former chief of staff, claimed Mr Selmayr was behind the leak, tweeting: “After constructive Council meeting, Selmayr does this. Reminder that some in Brussels want no deal or a punitive one.”

Mr Selmayr responded by posting: “This is false. I know it does’t fit your cliché, @NickJTimothy. But @JunckerEU & I have no interest in weakening PM.”

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In a second tweet, he added: “I deny that 1/we leaked this; 2/Juncker ever said this; 3/we are punitive on Brexit.

“It’s an attempt [to] frame EU side & [to] undermine talks.”

Speaking in the European Parliament in March 2018, Nigel Farage, then the leader of Ukip, launched a scathing attack on the Commission’s handling of the issue.

He said: “The fast-track appointment of Martin Selmayer to a €20,000 a month job done without any openness, without any transparency.

“In fact, his photograph was on the European Commission website before the meeting even took place.

Brexit is a 'failure' for the EU says Michel Barnier

“So well done on that score. What you’ve done, I think, it’s to bring a bit more light on the European Commission.

“I want the citizens to know that the European Commission is the government of Europe, it is unelectable, we can’t vote for them, we can’t remove them and yet they have the sole right to make law.”

He added: “And people need to understand how their money is being spent.

“This is Juncker’s favourite bureaucrat. A fanatic who is now the most powerful bureaucrat in the world and all of it done without an open procedure.

“You’ve done the people of Europe a great service. It is the perfect stitch-up.”


Speaking to in 2018 after Mr Selmayr’s appointment, ardent Brexiteer and former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: “This is a game being played, Juncker I have to tell you, is a bit of a joke figure.

“The truth is he doesn’t run the EU, Martin Selmayr is now in charge, him and Barnier.

“The answer is you need to look to where the real power lies and my general view about Juncker is he is President but he is not really directing stuff.

“He sometimes says quite ridiculous things and I think we should just ignore it and get on with the negotiations.”

Mr Duncan Smith added: “The public does not know anything at all about the EU half the time and I don’t blame them.

“It is a complete dog’s dinner of names and people and there is no reason why they should.

“The key thing is they want out of the single market, out of the customs union and want to take back control of their laws, their borders and their money. That is what we have to do.”

Mr Selmayr was replaced in his job by former Latvian diplomat Ilze Juhansone in an acting capacity.

He is now the European Commission’s Permanent Representative to Austria. has approached Mr Selmayr for comment.

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