International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has said “intransigence” from the European Union is pushing Britain towards a no-deal Brexit.
With less than eight months until Britain quits the bloc, the prominent Brexiteer put the odds of the UK leaving the EU without agreeing a deal over their future relationship at “60-40”.
Mr Fox said he believed the risk of a no-deal scenario had increased, pinning the blame on the European Commission and Brussels’ chief 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 well-being of the people of Europe then it’s a bureaucrats’ Brexit – not a people’s Brexit – (and) then there is only going to be one outcome.”
It was up to the EU whether it wanted to put “ideological purity” ahead of the real economy, Mr Fox said.
He said Mr Barnier had dismissed the UK’s proposals in the Chequers plan thrashed out by Theresa May and the cabinet simply because “we have never done it before”.
The government has admitted its proposals are unprecedented, but Mr Fox said Mr Barnier’s response “makes the chance of no deal greater”.
Mrs May held talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday, cutting short her holiday to visit his summer retreat.
And ministers including Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab have also engaged in diplomatic activity in Europe in recent days as the government seeks to deal directly with individual governments in an effort to keep the Chequers plan alive.
If Britain fails to agree the terms of its divorce with the EU and leaves without even a transition agreement to smooth its exit, it would revert to trading under World Trade Organisation rules in March 2019.
On Friday, Bank of England governor Mark Carney said the chances of a no-deal Brexit had become “uncomfortably high”.