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Humiliation for Michel Barnier as his French presidential election bid ends in failure

Michel Barnier's French presidential election bid has ended in failure after the conservative party voted for rival candidates to challenge Emmanuel Macron.

The former Brexit negotiator, 70, was today knocked out of the race for the 2022 presidential election after the Republicans party on Thursday chose a hard-right MP and the Paris region chief as its finalists.

The result defied poll predictions and spelt disappointment for Barnier, by far the oldest of the hopefuls, and ex-health minister Xavier Bertrand, who were seen by many as the front-runners.

It was no doubt major personal setback for Barnier, who won admirers for his deft handling of the Brexit negotiations but troubled some fans with his hard line during campaigning that included a call for a moratorium on immigration.

Michel Barnier was today knocked out of the race for the 2022 presidential election after the conservative party on Thursday chose a hard-right MP and the Paris region chief as its finalists

In his campaign, Barnier lamented France's 'big decline' and said President Emmanuel Macron's (pictured) leadership style was too arrogant and single-minded to heal divides

Barnier was appointed by the European Commission as the European Union's chief negotiator on Brexit. He was in charge of discussions reaching a withdrawal agreement with UK's head negotiator David Frost, which finally came into force in February 2020.

Eric Ciotti, from the southern city of Nice won the first round of the Republicans primary, while Valerie Pecresse, a moderate who heads the greater Paris region, came in second place. They will face off in a second vote, whose results will be announced Saturday.

Barnier proposed a moratorium on immigration to fix Europe and France's broken rules on migration, wants soldiers to patrol some communities where police are seen to have lost control and advocates a referendum on restoring military service. 

He also lamented France's 'big decline' and said President Emmanuel Macron's leadership style was too arrogant and single-minded to heal divides. 

In his hard-line stance on immigration, Barnier dramatically vowed that he would pull France out of the Treaty of Touquet governing Anglo-French border relations if he won the ballot. 

Under the terms of the agreement struck in 2003, each country has immigration control points at Dover and Calais. Britain is responsible for financing and running security at its border sites in northern France. In return, it is up to France to stop migrants trying to enter the UK illegally.

Paris has complained that, in practice, they are managing the British border with mainland Europe. They have also claimed that the treaty has resulted in huge numbers of migrants setting up campsites – such as the infamous Jungle dismantled in 2016 – at its ports as they attempt to enter Britain.

London has accused the French of failing to stop migrants illegally crossing the Narrow Sea, despite paying Paris £54million in instalments to increase patrols in a bid to curb Channel voyages.

The result defied poll predictions and spelt disappointment for Barnier (picutred), who won admirers for his deft handling of the Brexit negotiations 

Valerie Pecresse (left) , a moderate who heads the greater Paris region, and Eric Ciotti (right) from the southern city of Nice, won the first round of the Republicans primary

France has previously raised the prospect of ending checks on migrants unless Britain backs down in the ongoing post-Brexit dispute over fishing licences.

But Barnier's party appeared to be unconvinced by his hard-line campaign, as he came in third place with 24 per cent of the vote.

The results were close for the four leading candidates, with Ciotti garnering 25.6 per cent and Pecresse 25 per cent, followed by Barnier with 23 per cent and Bertrand  with 22 per cent. The outsider Phillipe Juvin, a mayor and doctor who rose to prominence during the Covid pandemic secured just 3.1 per cent. 

Analysts view the primary outcome as crucial to the shape of the election, which polls show Macron is currently a clear favourite to win, though the centrist former investment banker has not yet confirmed a re-election bid. 

A poll carried out this week by market and social research organisation Ifop-Fiducial for Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper and Sud Radio revealed that the liberal centrist President Macron would get 25 per cent or more of the votes in the first round of the election if voting were held today.

On the left, no candidate reaches 10 per cent in the polling, with Jean-Luc Melenchon of the France Unbowed party the highest at 8.5 per cent. 

The April 2022 vote looks set to be dominated by concerns about immigration and security, and with Macron hoping to benefit from his handling of the pandemic with vaccination rates higher and fewer restrictions than in some other European countries.

The Republicans party, which traces its lineage to rightwing presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, saw party membership soar in recent weeks to around 140,000, with 81 percent casting ballots in the first round of voting.