I ought to confess that I quite like Michel Barnier. This, I rather think, will not look good for my leave credentials, but I cannot jump on board with the clan of ultras who ceaselessly attack him after every one of his increasingly urgent speeches. I don't know very much about him, but he does possess admirable qualities.
From the get-go he has been fair with Britain. He has spoken highly of the UK's history and contributions to the Union and treated the Irish border issue with sensitivity. He has reinforced the European position with consistent clarity, demonstrably refuting claims of negotiating malice or desires for a no deal. He also does not espouse the same detestable veneer of arrogance that we see from the likes of Jean-Claude Juncker and Guy Verhofstadt.
He has not been the barrier to a deal that so many have accused him of being. The EU's collective position is very simple: offering us a preferential trading arrangement will undermine the integrity of the Single Market, and is thus not in their interest. This fundamental point is why I have soured on the idea of leaving the EEA. It will do us no good in the short or long term.
When I try to explain this to the Leave.EU and UKIP types, inevitably I am accused of hating the country and hoping for Brexit and Britain to fail. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we are talking about here is a matter of perspective. If the roles were reversed, and we were Brussels, we would not consider Brexit an ideal opportunity to create a glaring and damaging precedent. We would seek not to undermine our own institutions.
In his speech at the Centre for European Reform today, he reiterated that the "European Union will want to have a close relationship with the UK. We have a shared history – it started long before the last 44 years. That is why the “no deal” is not our scenario. Even though we will be ready for it. I regret that this no deal option comes up so often in the UK public debate."
I like the historical references in speeches of this nature. They are above all a reminder that the EU is and will remain a crucial ally. The bloc will not be unravelling at any time soon and we must learn to view Brexit more through the prism of a transformation than a divorce. Continued cooperation will be vital, both at the WTO and in relation to security and climate challenges.
Then, getting to the nub of this whole process, Barnier said: "Those who claim that the UK should 'cherry-pick' parts of the Single Market must stop this contradiction. The Single Market is a package, with four indivisible freedoms, common rules, institutions and enforcement structures. The UK knows these rules like the back of its hand. It has contributed to defining them over the last 44 years, with a certain degree of influence…"
The EU's insistence on protecting its integrity, he adds, "simply draws the logical consequence of the UK's decision to take back control. The EU does not want to punish. The integrity of the Single Market is not negotiable. The Single Market is one of our main public goods. It is the main reason why countries around the world – such as China, Japan, and the US – look to us as a strong partner."
Barnier is right that we cannot pack up facets of membership in our suitcase and take them with us because this would undermine the very purpose of the Single Market. There are clear reasons, after all, why Brexiteers often refer to the EU as a 'protectionist racket'. But it is worth remembering that some of this protectionism has also protected us. A point I have sought to drive home rather forcefully in recent weeks.
What does need to be highlighted is the issue of punishment. The UK correctly decided that EU membership was not in its best domestic interests and chose to leave, and so it therefore runs that we do this - the good and the bad - onto ourselves. There is no point outsourcing blame or pointing fingers. Doing so simply will not stack up to any logic that I can see.
During the referendum there was a narrow vein of argument which saw Brexit as a means to strengthen the rest of Europe. The theory behind this was that if the Union's most obstinate and hesitant member withdrew, it would allow for more rapid integration and a renewed focus upon minimising opt-outs and harmonising unbalanced levels of sovereignty between member states.
It wasn't my argument and for the record I don't think it is an especially good one. Brexit is a cause of instability and a Single Market exit will cause economic tremors not seen on the continent since 2008. Defence strategy will also be significantly hampered by our exit, given our comparatively impressive military strength, nuclear arsenal and valuable expertise.
Again, we are looking at differences in perspective. Europe and Britain can both enjoy bright futures, but only if they work closely together. We need not drive unnecessary wedges between us and our largest trading partner. Leaving was always a political question. There is no point cutting off our nose to spite our face.