Brexit relations hit a new low today after Brussels refused to deny that EU negotiators have raised concerns that they are being spied on by MI6.
The European Commission declined to comment on the reports that British intelligence assets are suspected of being used to give the UK an upper hand in Brexit talks.
It was reported that officials first suspected they were being bugged after the UK obtained sensitive documents “within hours” of them being presented to EU officials last month.
A European Commission spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny the situation, telling reporters in Brussels: “The commission’s position today is that we cannot comment on these press reports.”
The document obtained was said to be a “political explosive” slide presentation that contained a “highly negative” economic assessment of British plans to stay aligned for EU rules.
The Daily Telegraph reports that following the internal EU meeting the UK began immediately lobbying against Brussels releasing the assessment, for fear it could damage reception of Theresa May’s Chequers plan.
Both some EU member states and cabinet ministers have suggested a the likelihood of no-deal is now at least 50:50, with Liam Fox the international trade secretary suggesting it was more likely than not.
Negotiations between officials at a technical level restarted again on Thursday in Brussels, and will continue on Friday, discussing the Northern Ireland border issue and the future relationship.
Neither Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, nor Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, are attending the discussions. When asked what progress could be made this week the European Commission spokesperson avoided giving a direct answer.
Both sides say they want to reach a deal by October in order to have an agreement ready by the time the UK automatically leaves the bloc in March 2019, barring an extension or revocation of Article 50.
The main sticking point preventing a deal is the Northern Ireland border and the question of a “backstop” to prevent a hard border in all circumstances. The UK has flat out rejected EU proposals to keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs area, but Brussels says alternative proposals made by the UK would not prevent a hard border and has said the UK should “de-dramatise” its response to the EU plans or come up with its own workable solution.
Officials have previously suggested the EU may be working on another proposal of its own to prevent border checks from having to be erected but none has yet been published.
Both sides also want to reach an agreement on the future trade relationship between the UK and EU, though a withdrawal agreement could technically be signed without much detail on this issue and the details worked out during the two-year transition period Theresa May has asked for.
There will be no transition period without a withdrawal agreement covering Northern Ireland, citizens’ rights, and the financial settlement, however – and the UK has said it wants the nature of the future relationship to be agreement before Britain leaves.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies