Brexit: Barnier says things will be 'more difficult' for UK

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Mr Barnier hinted at a 2022 run for the French presidency in an interview with weekly magazine Le Point at the end of April. However, the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator said he would make clear his presidential intentions “in the autumn”. Mr Barnier, who was speaking ahead of the release of his book “The Great Illusion,” has been touted as one of several options for the center-right party Les Républicains (LR), though the favorites remain Bruno Retailleau, Valérie Pécresse and Xavier Bertrand.

LR remains undecided on how to make the pick, debating whether to choose a primary-style system or simply back a so-called “natural” candidate.

In February, Mr Barnier launched a group called Patriot and European to gather like-minded lawmakers.

He told France Info at the time: “I have a number of ideas and proposals to make, on all issues, including the authority of the State, decentralization and environment-friendly growth.”

In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, though, National Rally leader Marine Le Pen has ridiculed Mr Barnier’s possible presidential bid, arguing the French politician is simply an EU spokesman.

She said: “Michel Barnier thought he could imagine himself for a moment as a possible presidential candidate.

“It must be noted that his return to the French scene did not arouse any enthusiasm from his own political family.

“But above all, Michel Barnier is no longer seen as a French politician, but as the spokesman of a European Union which is very unpopular in France.

“In a country which voted “Non” to the European constitution in 2005, I believe his candidacy has little chance of success.”

French MEP Philippe Olivier, who also serves as special adviser to Ms Le Pen also claimed Mr Barnier does not stand a chance.

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He added: “Michel Barnier is not even French.

“He is a Europeanist, but not French.

“He is all the more ridiculous because he thinks that maybe because he has achieved something on a European level this would qualify him to represent something for France.

“He thinks the EU can send a governor here, but he doesn’t realise French people don’t want it.

“French people showed that in 2005 when they voted against the EU constitution in a referendum.”

Mr Olivier added: “In France, presidential elections are a contract between a candidate and the people of France.

“It is a bit like voting for a Queen or a King.

“It is evident that a person who has been sent by an international organisation stands absolutely no chance.”

French President Emmanuel Macron and Ms Le Pen saw their respective parties stumble last month as incumbent conservatives surged ahead in the first round of regional elections marred by a record-low turnout.

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France’s regional polls had been described as a dress rehearsal for next year’s presidential election – but by 8pm, the putative protagonists of the Elysée contest had witnessed their respective parties falter at the polls.

Ms Le Pen’s National Rally was hoping to lead in as many as six of mainland France’s 13 regions, putting it on course to win its first-ever region – or more – in the June 27 runoff.

However, the party topped just one contest, in the southern Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur region, securing only a wafer-thin lead in a race it had hoped to run away with.

Meanwhile, President Macron saw his party suffer another humiliating defeat at the polls, a year after its dismal performance in municipal elections.

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