MICHEL Barnier discussed the Tory leadership race during a “friendly” meeting with Nicola Sturgeon, The National has been told.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator held talks for 45 minutes with the First Minister who was in Brussels for a 24 hour visit yesterday. They met in Barnier’s office in the Berlaymont building in Brussels a day after Sturgeon described the Conservative contest to succeed Theresa May as a “horror show”.

Most of the 10 candidates have insisted as part of their pitch that they would try to reopen the withdrawal agreement and are ready to take the UK out of the bloc without a deal.

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Frontrunner Boris Johnson stated over the weekend he would not hand over the £39 billion financial settlement agreed between the EU and the UK unless he got a better deal.

But during yesterday’s head-to-head talks, Barnier (pictured below) made clear the EU will not reopen the Brexit deal or alter the backstop which ensures the border in Ireland will remain open whatever the final relationship between the UK and the EU.

After the meeting Barnier’s spokesman told us: “Michel Barnier’s door is always open. They discussed the latest developments in the UK and he reiterated that the withdrawal agreement cannot be reopened.”

The National:

Barnier was accompanied by his senior officials Christian Krappitz, Tristan Aureau and Nina Obermaier – who is a special adviser on Northern Ireland and who helped draw up the backstop.

It is understood that the two senior politicians discussed May’s stepping down, the stances of the Tory candidates to replace her and the continued deadlock over the Brexit deal in the House of Commons.

One EU insider was asked if Barnier was aware of the pro-EU stance among people in Scotland.

The source said: “Yes. He follows these things very carefully. He is quite often with Scottish MEPs and he has met Nicola Sturgeon a number of times. I think it is the third time they have met.”

Asked if the meeting was friendly, the source said: “Yes of course.”

Following a speech to the European Policy Centre think tank and a meeting with the three SNP MEPs Alyn Smith, Christian Allard and Aileen MacLeod, the First Minister met around 6pm with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured below).

Afterwards she said wanted to deliver a message to EU leaders that Scotland wanted to stay in the EU.

She also warned it was clear in Brussels any further extension to the Brexit timetable beyond the October 31 deadline would be conditional on a General Election or second EU referendum. “My presence in Brussels is intended to send a clear message that Scotland, just as we did in the EU referendum and again in the European Parliament elections, has indicated we don’t want to leave the European Union,” she said.

The National:

“We want to continue to be a European country right at the heart of the European family of nations and that’s the message I bring. Clearly I also am interested in hearing direct from the European Commission, in particular what the current thinking is around Brexit given the continued chaos in the UK.”

She added: “I won’t go into the details of what I spoke about with Michel Barnier – that’s confidential. But I think my impressions in coming here have been underlined. There’s no appetite to open the backstop here and any further extension beyond the end of October will have to be predicated on some further process such as a referendum or General Election, which underlines my determination to work with others to try to bring that opportunity about – for the UK to look again at Brexit.”

Smith, the SNP MEP, said the meetings with Juncker and Barnier showed that “every door” in Brussels is open to Scotland.

He stated: “At a time when the UK is characterised by arrogance, ignorance and confusion Nicola leads a team at Westminster and in Brussels that is united, focused and popular in Brussels.”