The count's in: 147 UKIP councillors. What now?

Farage's party have changed the landscape – at least for a bit.

After all councils across England and Wales have declared, UKIP has 147 councillors, far in excess of where it was predicted come before the elections.

Although there have been murmurs of protest – that the party's success was a self-fulfilling prophecy once the press started boosting Farage and co as a viable electoral force – there is no doubting that it's an important threshold for the erstwhile "fruitcakes" (although, of course, victory in local elections does not necessarily mean one is not a fruitcake…), and the conversation has turned to what happens next.

For the Conservative party, the consensus seems to be that treating the party as as laughable collection of far right xenophobes hasn't worked. Instead, the commentators suggest, it's time to look back to UKIP's roots as a single-issue anti-EU party, and outflank them their. So, Charles Moore writes in the Telegraph:

Already, it is clear that Mr Cameron has two desires – to win the next election and stay in the EU come almost what may. His speech is seen as a feint. Hence Ukip’s momentum, and hence the resurgent anger in his own party.

But Matthew Parris offers the opposite view in today's Times. UKIP should still be taken seriously, but not as a shining light of where popular conservatism lies; instead, Cameron's party should view it "as an enemy". He writes:

I’m a Conservative because I believe in the party’s central strand of moderation, social liberalism and internationalism. There are some on the Right who do not want these things. There is a limit to how far I would move to accommodate them, and a point beyond which I think they should consider a different party. That party might be UKIP. Well, so be it. Mr Farage should be challenged to forget about playing footsie with other people’s parties and make a decent fist of organising his own.

But while it's Conservatives who are having a crisis of faith this weekend, UKIP faces tough challenges on the horizon as well. For the party now has to deal with the nitty-gritty of local politics – a challenge which has scuppered other far-right parties. And while tactics of obstructionism work in the European Parliament, where the vast majority of UKIP's elected officials have say until now, there will be councils where the party is expected to provide a positive contribution to governance: if the candidates Farage would have "rather not" had don't get their act together, they will struggle for re-election in 2017.

What of the other parties? UKIP has overthrown the electoral calculus in more ways than one, of course. As our own Rafael Behr writes, Labour can't be complacent about UKIP's success:

There are plainly gains to be made for Labour nicking Tory seats if right-wing voters break for UKIP. That should offer very little comfort to Ed Miliband. Farage’s party came a respectable second place in South Shields, suggesting that voters who have been culturally inoculated against backing the Tories for a generation have no such qualms about UKIP. There are seats across the north of England and Scotland that Labour has taken for granted, where the party machine has rusted, where there are no up to date voter lists and the activist base is tribal and complacent.

Ironically, it's only the Lib Dems who can take an unabashedly positive view of UKIP. The party, already frequently a protest vote and with such clearly europhilic tendencies that it runs little risk of losing votes to the purple wave, has suddenly found a way of winning in the LD/Tory marginals which are increasingly its only hope in Westminster. If Tory votes go to UKIP, while Labour votes (grudgingly) tactically come to the Lib Dems, the party might be able to staunch the flow.

And finally, spare a thought for the Greens. They didn't show too badly on Thursday – gaining five councillors in elections far outside their core – and, as they keep pointing out, they do have an MP, something which remains a dream for UKIP. But the greater success of the green movement (even UKIP has a green policy of sorts, although it rejects the "LibLabCon-sensus" that climate change is man-made) might have left the Green party floundering for a reason to exist. After this week, it might see a bright future in the much-tossed-around idea of a "UKIP of the Left", but whatever happens, a reinvention seems necessary.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.