Boris Johnson may be stoking Brexit row to distract from coronavirus failures, EU's Michel Barnier warns
Boris Johnson could be deliberately stoking a row over Brexit to distract from the British government's failures over coronavirus, Michel Barnier has reportedly said.
The EU's chief negotiator is said to have told diplomats from EU countries in Brussels that domestic considerations could be behind the shift in rhetoric, according to a report from the Politico website citing two diplomats present.
The UK had the worst excess death rate in Europe over the summer and was one of the last countries to come out of lockdown, and is now struggling to get its test and trace system operational.
Many European governments have seen significantly increases in popularity on the back of their coronavirus handling, but Mr Johnson’s administration has instead seen its poll ratings fall gradually.
One EU source told The Independent that the claims about what Mr Barnier had said was "idle chat from ambassadors".
But Mr Barnier said the UK's apparently attempt to blow up the withdrawal agreement was either linked to domestic media management, or alternatively that the prime minister wanted to do a deal and was trying to gain leverage.
The EU's chief negotiator has previously publicly said he thinks a deal is now unlikely, given there has been little movement so far from the British side.
But Mr Barnier, who also led the first phase of talks, has also said a compromise is still possible.
Asked whether Mr Barnier had made the comments regarding coronavirus to the ambassadors, the European Commission declined to comment.
The UK government put Brexit back on the agenda after it unveiled its Internal Market Bill, which ministers have admitted would break international law if it is ever applied in full.
The bill contains the ability to override parts of the withdrawal agreement struck with the EU and put into force earlier this year.