Liam Fox accuses the EU of blackmailing Britain as Brexit tensions reach a new high

  • Trade Secretary Liam Fox claims the UK is being “blackmailed” by the EU over the Brexit bill.
  • Fox says businesses across Europe agree with him that talks on future UK-EU trade relations should begin as soon as possible.
  • Former Treasury head says Fox’s comments are the “perpetual cry of the smaller negotiator with the weaker hand.”

LONDON — International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has accused the European Union of trying to blackmail Britain as tensions between the two sides increase over sluggish progress in Brexit negotiations.

Speaking in Tokyo, Japan on Friday, the government minister expressed his frustration with the EU for refusing to discuss future UK-EU trade relations until Britain’s financial obligations, or the divorce bill, had been settled.

“We can’t be blackmailed into paying a price on the first part,” Fox told a press conference.

He continued: “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.”

Fox later gave an interview to Sky News where he claimed businesses across Europe agreed with the UK government that talks on Britain and the EU’s future trade relationship should get underway as soon as possible.

“I think there is frustration that we have not been able to get on that longer-term issue, that we’re stuck on this separation issue, and we’re not able to get on to the issues that will matter in the longer term for the future prosperity of the UK and the people of Europe,” Fox told Sky.

“And I had representations from businesses from across Europe — from Germany, from Spain — to say: ‘Can we put more pressure on the commission to try and get us a better idea of what that final picture will look like because we need to maintain an open and liberal trading environment in Europe?'”

Fox told to ‘get a grip’

Former Treasury head Nick Macpherson lambasted Fox for accusing the EU of blackmail in a tweet posted on Friday morning, saying: “‘Blackmail’ is the perpetual cry of the smaller negotiator with the weaker hand.”

Fox is in Tokyo alongside Prime Minister Theresa May to reassure their Japanese counterparts that post-Brexit Britain will be ready and able to strike a quick free trade deal with Japan soon after leaving the EU.

Meanwhile, their government colleague, Brexit Secretary David Davis, has this week been in Brussels with his Brexit negotiating team in an unsuccessful attempt to reach an agreement with the EU on a handful of key issues.

Yesterday the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said there had been no ‘decisive progress on any of the principle subjects’. The two sides must make “sufficient progress” on citizens’ rights, the divorce bill and the Irish border before talks regarding the UK’s future relationship with Brussels can begin, the EU has insisted.

On the Brexit bill, Barnier said: “It is clear that the UK does not feel legally obliged to these donations after departure. With such uncertainty how can we build trust and start discussing a future relationship.”

“We have a very different legal stance [on the divorce bill]” Brexit Secretary Davis told journalists, adding: we have a duty to our taxpayers to interrogate it rigorously.”

Davis expressed his own frustration with how negotiations had panned out, claiming this week’s talk had “exposed” the EU as being less “flexible and pragmatic” than Britain.

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