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EU won't be to blame if UK crashes out with a no-deal Brexit, says European Commission

Brussels hits back at allegations of ‘intransigence’ – as No 10 declines to say if any progress was made in Theresa May’s talks with Emmanuel Macron

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 06 August 2018 19:37 BST
What could the sticking points be in the Brexit trade deal?

Brussels has hit back at Theresa May’s government, insisting it will not be to blame if the UK crashes out of the EU without an agreement.

Negotiators are working “day and night, 24/7, for a deal”, the European Commission said – rejecting Liam Fox’s allegation that its “intransigence” was making a no-deal Brexit odds-on.

The comment came as No 10 declined to say whether any progress had been made in the prime minister’s Friday night talks with the French president, beyond describing it as “a good meeting”.

Ms May’s spokesperson listed several key EU figures he claimed had given a “positive response” to aspects of her Brexit plan – but, strikingly, did not mention Emmanuel Macron.

At the weekend, Dr Fox, the trade secretary, put the odds of the talks failing at “60-40”, saying: “I think the intransigence of the commission is pushing us towards no deal.”

And David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, also ramped up the pressure, warning the EU will be making a “massive miscalculation” if it believed the UK was bluffing about walking away.

But a commission spokesperson defended its approach, saying: “We are working constructively, day and night, to reach a deal with the United Kingdom and I think this is also reflected in the fact that the next negotiation round is scheduled for 16 and 17 August.

“An agenda will be published in due course and the chief negotiator is – as he has always been by the way – based on the negotiating position agreed by the 27 member states and that’s reflected in the European Commission guidelines.”

Downing Street declined to back Dr Fox’s odds on crashing out, saying: “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.”

However, the spokesperson added: “The trade secretary is right to say there is a risk of the negotiations not succeeding and the government has to prepare for all eventualities.”

Labour insisted that a no-deal Brexit – if it threatened to become a reality – would be a “catastrophic failure of government”.

Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said Mrs May’s “reckless red lines” had led to the crisis, along with splits in the Tory ranks and “fantasy Brexiteer promises”.

Ms May and Mr Macron met on Friday evening, at an island fortress off the French Mediterranean coast, as the prime minister desperately tried to rescue her Chequers proposals.

She is believed to have issued a “Chequers deal or no deal” message, insisting she could not compromise further on the package thrashed out in June, which sparked two cabinet resignations.

However, even in advance, the Elysee Palace had ruled out Mr Macron breaking ranks to help the UK, insisting the meeting was “not a negotiation”.

Speaking early on Monday, No 10 insisted Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator; Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s co-ordinator; and Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, had welcomed a step forward.

However, there was no mention of Mr Macron. Asked if any progress had been made on the French coast, the spokesperson replied: “It was a good meeting.”

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