Michel Barnier is fighting to quell a backlash in Brussels over his attempt to force a tough stance in Brexit talks.
The EU’s chief negotiator has been accused of overstepping his powers by laying down a series of red lines before they have been signed off by the bloc’s leaders.
The row comes as Mr Barnier is due to unveil guidelines for talks on a Brexit transition deal – with Brussels seemingly backing down on demands for the UK to obey fishing quota rules during the mooted two-year period.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier (pictured in Brussels last week) has warned there will be no special Brexit deal for the City of London
Mr Barnier used an interview yesterday to dismiss the prospects of a ‘bespoke’ Brexit deal, warning that the UK’s vision of arrangements that include the City of London ‘doesn’t exist’.
He said there was no chance of keeping single market ‘passporting’ rights, which allow UK financial firms to trade across the continent without facing bureaucratic restrictions.
The best Britain can hope for is a more limited Canada-style agreement, Mr Barnier indicated.
However, Theresa May waved the comments aside yesterday, saying the package should be ‘bespoke’ and ‘significantly more ambitious’ than that between the EU and Canada.
In the trade talks Ministers are expected to deploy one of Brussels’ favourite phrases, by warning that the EU cannot hope to ‘cherry pick’ parts of the UK economy to trade with.
Mr Barnier is due to publish guidelines on the transition talks, which the EU is insisting must be settled before the trade phase can get under way for real.
He has said that the UK will have to accept all EU regulations during the two-year period, and abide by rulings of the European Court of Justice – drawing complaints from Tory Eurosceptics that Britain is being made a ‘vassal state’.
But despite the public insistence that Britain will be subject to the ‘complete architecture’ of the EU, there are reports that European leaders are privately preparing a climbdown.
Brexiteer Michael Gove (pictured arriving for a Cabinet meeting yesterday) has been pushing for the UK to be freed from the EU fisheries policy
EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker is said to be among those frustrated with Mr Barnier (pictured together in Brussels in October)
Britain might be able to ‘opt out’ of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy during the transition – which would be a key victory for Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
A senior EU official told The Times it was not sustainable to ask the UK to follow quotas when it did not have any say in setting them.
‘We are thinking about a fair play kind of solution. The important thing is that people don’t need to feel discriminated on the UK side,’ the official said.
Meanwhile, UK sources said Mr Barnier’s fiery rhetoric was ruffling feathers in the EU – where many countries are nervous about the impact of losing trade with Britain.
Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker – whose job Mr Barnier is said to covet – and his powerful chief of staff Martin Selmayr are said to be among those irritated by his behaviour.
‘Nobody pays any attention to what Barnier says in Brussels,’ a source told The Sun.
‘They are not happy with Barnier. Juncker has fallen out with him because of his colossal ego, and even Selmayr is having second thoughts.’
In contrast with Mr Barnier, Belgian PM Charles Michel recently urged a ‘CETA plus plus’ deal with the UK, and Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni called for a ‘tailor-made’ agreement.