“There are lots of people who are jumping up and down saying ‘Oh, we’ve got this dangerous Frenchman (Barnier – av) in here that’s going to undermine London’,” said Syed Kamall, pro-Brexit leader of May’s Conservatives in the European Parliament. “It’s not like that.
“He’s going to be a reasonable negotiator,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to agree at the end of the day. But I can think of few other people that I would want on the other side of the negotiating table.”
Barnier knows Brexit Secretary David Davis from their time as Europe ministers in the 1990s – part of a vast contact list of people from many walks of life that Barnier has built in four decades since he was elected to parliament aged just 27.
Not all who know Barnier share Kamall’s assurance he can keep talks civil. One City executive said Barnier won “grudging respect” from British negotiators for coming to understand their issues and improving his English. But he also came over as aloof and “patrician”, brusque with his staff and juniors, and “vain”.
Barnier told French newspaper La Depeche he would go into talks “neither naive nor with preconceptions”, and recalled his last major negotiations:
“My strategy was to work with the British and the City … and not to pass laws against them or without them. So although we’re now in a different context, a deal on Brexit is possible.”