David Davis has accused Brussels and its chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier of having a “silly” approach to the talks on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
The UK’s Brexit Secretary said the EU was trying to put pressure on the UK over the demands for a so-called divorce fee, the subject of a bitter row during the latest round of talks.
His comments came as Theresa May sought to prevent a Tory rebellion ahead of the first Commons votes on the Brexit legislation.
The British Prime Minister’s allies have warned would-be rebels that they risk putting Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10 if they attempt to water down the so-called Repeal Bill.
The latest round of talks ended in an icy press conference, with Mr Barnier claiming there had been no “decisive” progress on key issues and suggesting there was a lack of trust as a result of the UK’s refusal to accept financial obligations.
But Mr Davis told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “They have set this up to try to create pressure on us on money, that’s what it’s about, they are trying to play time against money.”
Comparing Brussels’ demands to a hotel bill presented to a guest on checking out, Mr Davis said: “We are going through it line by line and they are finding it difficult because we have got good lawyers.”
He said Mr Barnier “wants to put pressure on us, which is why the stance this week in the press conference – bluntly, I think it looked a bit silly because there plainly were things that we had achieved”.
Mr Davis insisted he was not branding Mr Barnier personally “silly”, adding: “I said the commission would make itself look silly”.
The Brexit Secretary dismissed as “nonsense” claims that the UK would pay a £50 billion fee to exit the EU.
The “strict position” was that there was “no enforceable” legal basis for the UK to pay money to Brussels but “we are a country that meets its international obligations – but they have got to be there”.
Those obligations “may not be legal ones, they may be moral ones or political ones”, he said.
The EU is only prepared to begin trade talks once it has assessed that “sufficient progress” has been made on issues including the financial settlement.
Mr Davis said money was “the thing that frightens them most” and insisted that the UK would not be forced into backing down in order to begin trade talks in October.
“I’m not going to allow them to use the time pressure on that to somehow force us into doing X or Y or Z,” he said.
The UK was “planning for all options”, including the possibility of leaving without a deal from Brussels.
But a good deal was “by far and away the highest probability”, Mr Davis insisted.
The parliamentary battle over Brexit will begin on Thursday as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill begins its journey through the Commons.
In a plea to “soft Brexit” backers, Mr Davis said: “If you want something like continuity, this is the Bill you should be supporting.”