The EU has warned Boris Johnson he will fail if he tries to use the leverage of a US trade deal to strike better terms with Brussels, as it revealed plans for “10 negotiating tables” for the huge task ahead.
In a hard-hitting interview, chief negotiator Michel Barnier also made clear that border checks on goods will “become the norm” after Brexit – even if the UK achieves the no-tariff, no-quota agreement it seeks.
And he suggested the UK could never secure the same “respect” from the United States and China as it had as a member of the EU with “500 million consumers and 22 million businesses”.
Mr Johnson intends to pursue parallel trade talks with the EU and the US after Brexit Day on Friday, with some hardline Tories convinced they can be played off against each other.
But Mr Barnier, asked by the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche if he feared “a bidding war”, replied: “There will be no overbidding on our side.”
The negotiator appeared to cast doubt on the chances of a rapid US-UK deal, saying: “We remember what has become of the proposed transatlantic free trade agreement with the United States.” It was abandoned after protests.
And he vowed: “When we say that any product entering our country must meet our standards, for example the ban on chlorinated chicken, we are enforcing this law.
“The British are free to experience whatever they want with the United States. But, in any event, the conditions for entry into the European market will remain strictly applied, once again to protect our consumers and our businesses.”
During the interview, Mr Barnier also:
* Made clear the power relationship in the talks to come – pointing out that “9 per cent of EU trade is with the United Kingdom and 47 per cent of British exports of goods go to the European Union”.
* Said the deal, once it covered areas such as transport or energy, would require ratification by all 27 member states which “will require more time”.
* Revealed priorities would include rescuing cooperation in medical research against cancer, the Erasmus scheme for students and the Galileo satellite programme – after the UK left the existing bodies.
* Insisted the EU would be “uncompromising” in protecting against a repeat of the financial crash – noting that “some City of London actors have supported Brexit”.
* Revealed fears for EU citizens in the UK after Brexit. Those already settled would secure their rights, but “afterwards, it will be another story with a new British immigration policy”.
Mr Barnier praised the prime minister as “intelligent, very cordial, very direct, but also very pragmatic”, but added: “Beyond the competence and professionalism of our partners, we will not be impressed.”
And, on the momentous task of the talks to start after 31 January, he said: “We are going to open 10 negotiating tables and we will discuss everything in parallel, because we must now rebuild everything with the United Kingdom.”