His comments have led British politicans to lament his negotating tactics and describe the leading EU official as “manipulative”
Addressing several audiences, Mr Barnier sent a warning to Britain to take the Irish border question seriously because “there’s a risk of it all falling apart” over the issue.
The French EU official appeared alongside Mr Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, and his deputy Simon Coveney who levelled their own Brexit threats.
Speaking at the All-Island Civic Dialogue, in Dundalk, Ireland, Mr Barnier launched a swift attack on Britain’s decision to leave the EU.
He said: “Brexit is not about progress and it’s not a project. There is no added-value with Brexit. Nobody has proved it so far that Brexit has added-valued.
Brexit news: Michel Barnier’s Ireland trip labelled as “manipulative” move to soften UK red lines
Mr Barnier has a talent for being manipulative while sounding conciliatory
Mr Barnier moved onto the so-called “backstop” clause which has been inserted into the draft withdrawal treaty by EU bosses.
In December, Theresa May pledged to avoid at all costs the return of a hard border to the island of Ireland as a result of Brexit. The Prime Minister did so to ensure Brexit negotiations could move on to discuss the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Sceptical EU leaders, however, said there must be a mechanism to hold the UK to account as they doubted the substance of Mrs May’s promise. Their solution was the backstop, which would see Northern Ireland kept in the EU’s customs union effectively moving Brussels’ border with Britain to the Irish Sea.
The backstop was deemed a negotiating tactic by Brexit Secretary David Davis, who accused the EU of creating “artificial deadlines” to pressurise Westminster during talks.
Mr Barnier sought to alleviate fears this wasn’t the case and a “misunderstanding” while denying any secret Brussels plot to split up the UK.
“In March, in a letter to the European Council President Donald Tusk, Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed her commitment to including operational legal text on the backstop in the withdrawal agreement.”
However, he once again affirmed the fragility of Brexit negotiations, adding: “To be clear: without a backstop, there can be no withdrawal agreement. This is an EU issue, not only an Irish issue.”
The exact wording of the backstop agreement is still yet to be agreed by Brussels and Westminster, with it likely to be confirmed by the EU summit in June.
Conservative MEP John Flack warned those watching Mr Barnier that the Frenchman’s new found conciliatory approach is another negotiating tactic.
Mr Flack told Express.co.uk: “Mr Barnier has a talent for being manipulative while sounding conciliatory. He knows we will never accept a deal that treats Northern Ireland any differently from the rest of the country.
“There’s your backstop.”
Ukip MEP and the party’s leader Gerard Batten accused the Frenchman of attempting to sour the positive UK-Ireland relations after decades of conflict.
He said: “The only people looking to put up an EU border in Ireland are Barnier and his acolytes intent on disrupting good relationships between Ireland and the UK as much as they can.”
Mr Varadkar set about explaining his vision for how the Irish border solution should pan out after Brexit, envisioning no change to how Ireland trades with Britain under the current EU arrangements.
He said: “In terms of the future relationship, we want that to be as close as possible – a deep partnership between the European Union and the United Kingdom after it leaves.
1 of 17
Taking a shot at Britain, he said Westminster has created “the only barrier” to achieving an answer to the Irish border question is the “UK’s own, self-imposed red lines”.
Hinting about the UK possibly rolling back on its pledge to quit the customs union, he added: “If these are softened, the EU’s position will be flexible.”
Mr Batten said Mr Varadkar’s own mention of the so-called backstop is just part of a “non-existent problem being inflated by the EU to slow or prevent Brexit”.
He added: “It’s time we got on with it and stopped these pointless negotiating tactics.
”Sadly for them, this tactic of floating artificial deadlines won’t work because so much trade occurs every day between Ireland and the UK, and ultimately even raging europhiles like Leo Varadkar know a hard EU border is in no one’s interest.”