In Brief

Chances of ‘no deal’ Brexit now 60-40 says Liam Fox

International trade secretary blames EU ‘intransigence’ for raising the odds of the UK crashing out without an agreement

The International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, has said the “intransigence” of the European Commission means the chances of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal next March now stands at 60%.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, the Brexiteer accused Eurocrats of harbouring a “theological obsession” with EU rules rather than “economic wellbeing”, which would lead to “only one outcome”.

Fox accused Brussels’ chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, of dismissing Britain’s proposals “because we have never done it before” and argued that “makes the chance of no deal greater”.

Sky News says “his comments are in stark contrast to the position he took in July of last year, when he said a trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history”.”

His remarks, which were not disowned by Number 10, “appear to be part of a strategy by the Government to talk up the prospect of no deal in order to put pressure on EU leaders to accept Mrs May's Chequers plan” which would lock Britain into alignment with EU rules on goods says the Daily Telegraph.

The prime minister and other senior members of her cabinet have been on a diplomatic charm offensive around Europe trying to circumvent Barnier and appeal directly to EU leaders.

So far these efforts have failed to shift the EU’s negotiating position with The Times reporting that Brexit-supporting cabinet ministers will tell May to “pivot” to demanding a Canada-style trade deal if her charm offensive fails to yield support for the Chequers plan.

In the meantime, the game of brinkmanship between Downing Street and EU has raised the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit.

Last week, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney warned that the dangers of such an exit from the EU were “uncomfortably high”.

The gulf between the vitriolic reaction of Brexiteers to Carney’s comments and the silence that accompanied Fox’s was picked up by several commentators including Matthew Norman in The Independent who said “the quantum of solace from his interview is that it may marginally shorten the odds against a second referendum”.

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