POLITICS

Liam Fox Told To 'Get A Grip' As He Accuses EU Of 'Blackmailing' Brits

"Blackmail is the perpetual cry of the smaller negotiator with the weaker hand."

01/09/2017 09:24 | Updated 02 September 2017

Brexit tensions threatened to boil over again today as Liam Fox accused the EU of “blackmailing” the UK over the so-called divorce bill. 

The International Trade Secretary called for talks on the financial settlement to get back underway as soon as possible “because that’s good for business”. 

But his intervention has been ridiculed by former permanent secretary to the Treasury Nick Macpherson as suggesting the UK was “the smaller negotiator with the weaker hand”. 

The one-time senior civil servant bluntly told Fox to “get a grip”. 

And pro-remain Labour MP Chuka Umunna labelled Fox’s claims “ridiculous” and more likely to see talks break down.  

Fox’s intervention came after a strained joint press conference between EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary David Davis in Brussels, which revealed both sides had fundamentally different views.

Barnier said the UK was harbouring a “sort of nostalgia” and slammed “no decisive progress” on key issues during the four-day talks that preceded the press conference.

PA Wire/PA Images

Standing by his side, Davis claimed there had actually been “concrete progress” and repeated his barb that the bloc needed to be more “imaginative” and “flexible” in its approach. 

The UK wants to begin trade talks and discuss the future trading relationship immediately, without the final bill decided. 

And Fox, who cannot strike trade deals until talks conclude, has ratcheted up the pressure by saying firms across the world were becoming impatient with the uncertainty stalling talks was creating. 

He said: “We can’t be blackmailed into paying a price on the first part (the divorce fee).

“We think we should begin discussions on the final settlement because that’s good for business, and it’s good for the prosperity both of the British people and of the rest of the people of the European Union.”

But, Brussels has insisted discussions about the future relationship can begin only once “sufficient progress” on the “divorce fee”, citizens’ rights, and the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic.

EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images
Brexit Secretary David Davis (L) and European Commission's Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier

No figure has yet been put on the divorce payment, but European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has suggested it could be about £55bn.

Unconfirmed reports have put it as high as £92bn.

Fox and Theresa May have been holding talks with Japanese leaders about the future of trading relations between the two countries after Brexit.

At the end of the three-day visit, Fox said: “It’s very clear that businesses, not just in Europe but investors in places like here in Japan, are getting impatient and want to see what that final shape of that [Brexit] arrangement is going to be.”

He said movement from on the future trading relationship now would “unlock some of the tension”.

PA Wire/PA Images
European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt

He added that it was a “mistake” for the EU to think a delay in talking about the economy and the trading arrangement would not potentially damage them too.

Guy Verhofstadt, who heads the EU Parliament’s Brexit group, has previously said the remaining 27 EU countries had been “fully transparent” about its negotiating stance from day one. 

“This is not a ploy to derail talks, but an inevitable consequence of the Brexit decision,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph on Friday.

Verhofstadt called on UK politicians to “be more honest” about the complexities of Brexit negotiations, asking them to recognise that “other governments also have obligations to their own taxpayers”. 

Standing by his side, Davis claimed there had actually been “concrete progress” and repeated his barb that the bloc needed to be more “imaginative” and “flexible” in its approach. 

The UK wants to begin trade talks and discuss the future relationship between Britain and the bloc immediately, without the final bill decided. 

And Fox, who cannot strike trade deals until talks conclude, has ratcheted up the pressure by saying firms across the world were becoming impatient with the uncertainty stalling talks was creating. 

EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images

He said: “We can’t be blackmailed into paying a price on the first part (the divorce fee).

“We think we should begin discussions on the final settlement because that’s good for business, and it’s good for the prosperity both of the British people and of the rest of the people of the European Union.”

But, Brussels has insisted discussions about the future relationship can begin only once “sufficient progress” on the “divorce fee”, citizens’ rights, and the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic.

No figure has yet been put on the divorce payment, but European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has suggested it could be about £55bn.

Unconfirmed reports have put it as high as £92bn.

Fox and Theresa May have been holding talks with Japanese leaders about the future of trading relations between the two countries after Brexit.

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Brexit Secretary David Davis (L) and European Commission's Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier

At the end of the three-day visit, Fox said: “It’s very clear that businesses, not just in Europe but investors in places like here in Japan, are getting impatient and want to see what that final shape of that [Brexit] arrangement is going to be.”

He said movement from on the future trading relationship now would “unlock some of the tension”.

He added that it was a “mistake” for the EU to think a delay in talking about the economy and the trading arrangement would not potentially damage them too.

Guy Verhofstadt, who heads the EU Parliament’s Brexit group, has previously said the remaining 27 EU countries had been “fully transparent” about its negotiating stance from day one. 

“This is not a ploy to derail talks, but an inevitable consequence of the Brexit decision,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph on Friday.

Verhofstadt called on UK politicians to “be more honest” about the complexities of Brexit negotiations, asking them to recognise that “other governments also have obligations to their own taxpayers”. 

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