Barnier witnesses ‘secure’ Irish backstop in action on pitch

EU’s Brexit negotiator grimaces through French display on Dublin visit to watch rugby

 EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier at the Ireland V France Six Nations rugby match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier at the Ireland V France Six Nations rugby match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

 

Rugby supporters heading into the Aviva Stadium had mixed feelings about the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier attending the Ireland-France Six Nations rugby match.

“I am not sure it was such a good move for him to come at this delicate stage. It sounds a little bit like he is supporting one side,” said David Thompson from Belfast, wearing an Ireland scarf.

Then he added: “But then it’s a French game and he’s French so why shouldn’t he be here?”

Mr Thompson’s brother Peter, who like his brother voted Remain in the UK Brexit referendum in 2016, expressed confidence in the strength of the Irish backstop on the field of play if not in the Brexit backstop.

“I would say that the Irish backstop would be very strong and secure, and it won’t be breached by any French man,” he said.

Mr Barnier was in Dublin for a private visit to see the game with his two sons.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney met the French man socially in Dublin for dinner on Saturday night before travelling to the Ireland-France rugby game together.

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The three men along with their partners and family members met at a city centre restaurant before they travelled in the same car to the Aviva Stadium.

The three men were photographed alongside Irish Farmers Association president Joe Healy and his French counterpart Christiane Lambert, president of France’s farming group FNSEA after they bumped into them on their walk down Lansdowne Road towards the stadium.

President of the French farmers union the FNSEA, Christiane Lambert, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, President of the Irish Farmers Association, Joe Healy, EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Tánaiste Simon Coveney on their way into the Ireland V France Six Nations rugby match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Chris Donoghue/Twitter
President of the French farmers union the FNSEA, Christiane Lambert, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, President of the Irish Farmers Association, Joe Healy, EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Tánaiste Simon Coveney on their way into the Ireland V France Six Nations rugby match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Chris Donoghue/Twitter

There were cheers and gentle banter from some in the crowd who recognised the EU’s negotiator.

Doorstepped outside the ground, Mr Barnier said that work was ongoing as the EU and UK attempt to break the deadlock over the Brexit agreement ahead of key votes due in the House of Commons this week.

“We are still working,” he said.

Inside the stadium, Mr Barnier also met President Michael D Higgins along with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste in the VIP room at half-time. There were informal conversations too with Prince Albert of Monaco who was also in town for the game.

Prince Albert of Monaco watches from the stands. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Prince Albert of Monaco watches from the stands. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Michel Barnier looks on during the Six Nations match between Ireland and France at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Michel Barnier looks on during the Six Nations match between Ireland and France at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

During the game, the negotiator, wearing neutral beige and taupe colours, appeared anxious as he was photographed grimacing at the French performance on the field.

Another Ireland supporter, Cormac Scully, from Stranorlar in Co Donegal on the Border, talked Barnier and game tactics on his way to the stadium.

“I just hope that he and the French have a better match plan than what’s coming out of London,” he said.

In the end, they didn’t. The Irish inflicted a convincing 26-14 defeat on the French.

Mr Barnier will be hoping for a constructive draw for all sides in this crunch week in the Brexit process.

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