The European commission has rejected claims made by Liam Fox that its “intransigence” is to blame for making a ‘no-deal’ Brexit the most likely outcome of negotiations.
The commission has insisted it is working around the clock – including over the summer holidays – to achieve a deal after criticism of its approach to talks by the international trade secretary.
Fox said there is now a 60-40 chance of a cliff-edge exit from the EU, blaming the negative response to the Chequers plan from the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.
“I think the intransigence of the commission is pushing us towards no deal,” he told the Sunday Times.
“We have set out the basis in which a deal can happen but if the EU decides that the theological obsession of the unelected is to take priority over the economic wellbeing of the people of Europe then it’s a bureaucrats’ Brexit, not a people’s Brexit – then there is only going to be one outcome.”
The European commission made an exception to its policy of refusing to response to comments by politicians in its member states in order to hit back.
Its deputy chief spokesperson, Mina Andreeva, delivered a pre-prepared response when asked about the comments by journalists at the commisison’s daily press conference in Brussels.
She said: “We are working constructively day and night to reach a deal with the UK and this is also reflected in the fact that the next negotiating round is scheduled for the 16th and 17th of August.
“The chief negotiator is engaging constructively, as he has always been by the way, based on the negotiating position agreed by the 27-member states.”
The commission stressed the fact that talks are continuing over the summer demonstrates its commitment to reaching a deal.
One European diplomat joked recently that staff who signed-up to work for the commission’s Brexit taskforce were beginning to regret it.
Brexit secretary Dominic Raab is not expected to attend the forthcoming round of negotiations in Brussels, with technical talks being left to the prime minister’s Brexit advisor, Olly Robbins.
“To my understanding it will be at officials level, but it shall be followed very soon also at political level because as you know we are working 24/7, day and night for a deal,” Andreeva added.
In London, the prime minister’s spokesman said Theresa May did not agree with Fox’s assessment that a cliff-edge Brexit is now odds-on.
“We continue to believe that a deal is the most likely outcome because reaching a good deal is not only in the interests of the UK, it is in the interests of the EU and its 27 members,” he said.