In This Review

My Secret Brexit Diary: A Glorious Illusion
My Secret Brexit Diary: A Glorious Illusion
By Michel Barnier
Polity, 2021, 450 pp

This book’s title promises lurid and personal revelations. The author—a genially earnest French politician who headed the EU delegation in the Brexit negotiations—delivers neither. Yet his blandness perfectly suits the perspective on Brexit he offers. The European Commission, much maligned on the British right, emerges as a skilled, moderate, and results-oriented institution that entrusts important negotiations to experienced professionals such as Barnier. By contrast, British ministers and officials represented a fractious group of Conservative politicians who had espoused Brexit for reasons more electoral than economic—and thus had little idea what they really wanted or how to get it. Barnier records his surprise as the British side made one tactical error after another, often conceding on major issues without even seeming to grasp what was at stake. At the last minute, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s amateurish effort to circumvent the European Commission entirely by negotiating directly with national leaders collapsed when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron refused to take his calls. In the end, Europe out-negotiated the United Kingdom across the board. The British people—faced with confusion on the border with Ireland, severe labor and product shortages, and continuing squabbles over a host of issues from fishing to banking—are now paying the price.