Arch-Europhile Guy Verhofstadt was ruthlessly torn apart by the BBC‘s Justin Webb this morning after the reporter explained how the UK has “the advantage” over the EU in the trade talks. Mr Verhofstadt was left stunned when Webb said that cracks will appear in what has been a unified EU front. The BBC host suggested that splits among the EU27 will hand the UK a key advantage in the talks.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, the Brussels MEP negotiator said: “We have said that if Britain wants an ambitious free trade deal, they have to be ambitious in their willingness to apply European standards.
“If Britain doesn’t sign up to no tariffs, no quotas, no dumping, it will be very difficult to have a broad free trade agreement.”
He warned that this dumping would cover state aid as well as dropping ecological and social standards.
Mr Verhofstadt added: “Everyone is obsessed with the FTA but we also have to figure out our co-operation on foreign policy, on defence, on security as well.”
Webb responded: “Some European countries will some issues that are more important than others.
“Some will be much more interested in fishing stocks, others in security matters or the car industry.
“The British Government think that it now has more of an advantage than it had in the first phase of negotiations because EU countries themselves will be vying with each other.”
Mr Verhofstadt hit back at these claims, insisting: “They said this three years ago and it never happened. It will not happen now because since Brexit, there has been this feeling that this European project is important and the single market is crucial to survive in this world.
“No-one of the 27 will undo the single market or eliminate the freedoms we have. No-one wants to destroy the European Project – it is the one good thing to come out of Brexit.
“We have all realised we don’t want to see the collapse of the EU in a world that is led by the Chinese, by Indians, by Americans.”
Webb rebutted: “But they also don’t want a very powerful competitor, which is what Britain would be, on their doorstep, with whom you don’t have good relations.
“A lot of EU countries will feel they have to bend over backwards now to make sure they have a close relationship with the UK.”
Mr Verhofstadt had a bruising meeting with Steve Barclay in Westminster last night, with the Brexit Secretary accusing him of “scaremongering” over the protections for EU citizens staying in the UK after January 31.
Earlier in this week, the Prime Minister said that the chances of securing a comprehensive deal, which the EU has suggested looks unlikely be the end of December, were “enormously likely, epically likely”.
Pressed on the possibility of such an agreement not coming to fruition, he added: “You always have to budget for a complete lack of common sense.”
Boris Johnson previously met with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to discuss the potential future deal, and she expressed her concerns that the transition period was too short to secure one.