BRUSSELS (Reuters) - What’s red and international and led by a Frenchman?
For Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday, the answer seemed to be Arsenal Football Club, whose jersey the Labour leader brought to Brussels as a gift for EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
The French conservative ex-minister who runs the team handling Britain’s withdrawal appreciated the thought from the left-winger in whose London constituency Arsenal’s cosmopolitan stars play under their veteran French coach Arsene Wenger:
“Appropriate Arsenal gift from @jeremycorbyn to @MichelBarnier, defender of EU unity, committed to fair play on #Brexit, and a sports fan,” tweeted one of Barnier’s team after the two men met over lunch to discuss Britain’s EU withdrawal.
Corbyn, an Arsenal fan, noted Arsenal had played in Europe every year since the Alsatian Wenger arrived in 1996 and said Barnier was “very happy” with the shirt, as well as a copy of Labour’s manifesto: “He’s got two things in red,” Corbyn joked after what he called frank and useful talks over lunch.
Barnier recalled his time running the 1992 Winter Olympics and, offering Corbyn a vintage tourist poster for his native Savoy Alps, reminded him of Anglo-French business links in the region, notably in the British-built ski resort of Meribel.
Corbyn, who slashed Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s majority in an election last month but has promised to honour last year’s referendum vote to leave the EU, was in Brussels to push for a “jobs first Brexit”, though Barnier is at pains to stress he will negotiate only with May’s government.
Among key issues at next week’s first full round of talks is an EU demand that Britain pay tens of billions of euros on Brexit. London is set to haggle hard over the figures.
So while the Arsenal jersey was emblazoned “BARNIER” on the back, it was perhaps also fitting that it carried no number.
Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; @macdonaldrtr; Editing by Alison Williams