Barnier’s embarrassing gaffe in Westminster: ‘He was adjusting his hair or toupee’

George Eustice reacts to Barnier's immigration suspension calls

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Former French Minister Mr Barnier has detailed how he wants to suspend immigration to France for up to five years and toughen checks on the EU’s external borders. In what is seen as a pitch to lead the centre-right Les Republicains into next year’s presidential elections, Mr Barnier told French TV: “I think that effectively we need to take some time, between three to five years, and suspend immigration. “I’m not talking about students, I’m not talking about refugees who must be treated with humanity and strength.

“But we need to rebuild the whole process.”

Mr Barnier has previously warned that France could follow the UK out of the EU amid “social unrest and anger” over immigration and Europe’s failure to defend its borders.

He said Paris should hold talks with its EU allies about how to strengthen the bloc’s border controls and about the passport-free Schengen Zone.

Mr Barnier added: “The problems with immigration are not moderate… we need to talk to our neighbours about the Schengen Agreement, we possibly need to put in stricter border controls.”

The comments made on Sunday come as Mr Barnier, who represented the EU in Brexit negotiations from 2019 to 2021, seeks to drum up interest in a bid for the presidency next year.

So far the ex-Minister, a member of the conservative Les Républicains party, is not considered among the main challengers to President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election bid.

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As anticipation grows, an interview about the eurocrat has resurfaced, which sheds light on his personality.

In 2011, former Labour City and Treasury Minister Lord Paul Myners was reportedly incredibly annoyed with Mr Barnier’s proposed reforms of credit rating agencies.

At the time Mr Barnier was serving as Internal Market Commissioner.

Lord Myners issued a brutal warning about him, after recalling an embarrassing gaffe Mr Barnier made at Westminster.

He told the House of Lords: “I met Mr Barnier when he was a Minister.

“He came to see us at the Treasury.

“He came down the corridor and I was watching him.

“I am a great fan of art and I was rather impressed that he stopped to look at every painting.

“I thought, ‘This is a man with whom I share a common interest’.

“Until I realised he was actually looking at his reflection in the glass on every painting, and just adjusting his hair or his toupee.”

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Lord Myners added: “This is a man whom we should treat with a very long spoon.”

At the time, even the former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, a committed enthusiast for the EU, warned that Mr Barnier was “no friend of the City of London”.

The UK’s fears regarding him appear to have been justified as, according to reports, the Minister did end up favouring France.

In a 2011 Financial Times report, EU correspondent Alex Barker noted how the myriad of Brussels proposals had left Britain’s financial world reeling and the measures hurt the sector and crimped UK regulatory powers.

Anthony Belchambers, chief executive of the London-based Futures and Options Association told the publication at the time: “Red tape, ill-informed tax initiatives, protectionist policies and high ‘pass on’ costs will damage the international reach of the City.”

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In his FT report, Mr Barker also pointed out that the underlying alarm in London was a more visceral fear; that Mr Barnier and his backers had been using the regulatory system to sap London’s strength as Europe’s financial centre.

At the time, former Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly went as far as to say in an interview with the Financial Times that he believed Mr Barnier was part of a Paris-led conspiracy.

The former Prime Minister said: “The French wouldn’t have us trying to move their aerospace industry to Poland, so I’m not having them trying to move our financial services industry to Frankfurt – forget it.”

Mr Barnier always dismissed complaints against him as “nonsense”.

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