Despite admitting the Prime Minister is “very clear, the Brussels negotiator warned he would not allow him to get the upper hand in the crunch negotiations. Speaking on the eve of opening formal post-Brexit talks with Britain, Mr Barnier told German newspaper Der Spiegel: “We are both politicians. That is the basis on which we understand and respect each other. “I admire the stock of energy he can draw on in negotiations. Johnson is very clever, but he also knows I have been in this business for a long time and that I’m not going to allow myself to be fooled.”
The EU’s chief negotiator will meet with his counterpart David Frost, the Prime Minister’s top Europe adviser, today ahead of the first round of trade talks.
Their deputies will meet in no fewer than 11 sub-committees in a bid to hammer out the entire future relationship before the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.
They will cover everything from fisheries to trade in goods and the so-called level playing field.
The EU Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters cannot provide enough meetings rooms, so negotiators, including 100 officials sent from London, will be hosted at a conference centre in Brussels.
Mr Johnson has instructed his lead negotiator to begin plotting Britain’s course as a sovereign nation that isn’t signed up to or follows the EU’s swathes of red tape and regulations.
In the Belgian capital, Mr Barnier is comfortable with the fact that the UK will soon be abandoning the bloc’s rulebook.
He said: “It’s perfectly within the rights of the British to do that. But future access to our single internal market of more than 440 million people will depend proportionally on the extent to which there is fair competition between the two sides.
“That is exactly what we agreed with the British in the Political Declaration only a few months ago. Boris Johnson was involved in this. So, no one can seriously be surprised by the EU’s position.”
The leading eurocrat dismissed claims the the bloc is terrified at the prospect of the UK becoming a low-regulation “Singapore on Thames”-styled economy on its doorstep.
He said: “We’re not afraid, but we’re also not naive. When it comes to the integrity of the single market, there can be no compromises.
“The single market is and will remain the most important shared asset of the 27 EU member states for the foreseeable future.
“The internal market is the reason Donald Trump respects us. The internal market is the reason Chinese President Xi Jinping takes the EU seriously – and, so far at least, not our foreign or defence policy.”
MUST READ: Four key battlegrounds in UK and EU effort to sign a trade agreement