Raab hits out at ‘irresponsible’ EU ahead of fresh Brexit talks

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Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has accused the EU of “irresponsibly” ramping up pressure in withdrawal negotiations.

The comments came as Mr Raab indicated he was still trying to persuade all members of the Cabinet that Theresa May’s Chequers compromise agreement was “the best plan to get the best deal”.

As Mr Raab, who has said a deal with the EU can be reached by October, readied to return to Brussels for more Brexit talks on Thursday, he signalled that Britain could withhold its £39 billion divorce bill if it did not get a trade deal in return.

And Tory former prime minister Sir John Major left the door open to a new referendum, insisting such a vote would be “morally justified”.

Mr Raab was scathing about comments from Brussels stating that a no deal scenario would mean there would be no specific arrangements in place for UK citizens living on the continent, or for EU migrants in Britain after withdrawal.

Mr Raab told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show: “Well, I think that’s a rather irresponsible thing to be coming from the other side.

“We ought to be trying to reassure citizens on the continent and also here.

“There is obviously an attempt to try and ramp up the pressure.”

The Brexit Secretary said there had to be “conditionality” under the Article 50 withdrawal mechanism between settling Britain’s exit payment and creating a new relationship with the EU.

He told the Sunday Telegraph: “Article 50 requires, as we negotiate the withdrawal agreement, that there’s a future framework for our new relationship going forward, so the two are linked.

“You can’t have one side fulfilling its side of the bargain and the other side not, or going slow, or failing to commit on its side.

“So, I think we do need to make sure that there’s some conditionality between the two.”

The comments appeared at odds with Chancellor Philip Hammond, who said of the divorce payment last December: “I find it inconceivable that we as a nation would be walking away from an obligation that we recognised as an obligation.”

Mr Raab also defended the controversial Chequers Cabinet compromise on withdrawal aims, stating: “I want to make sure we can persuade everyone – grassroots, voters, parliamentary party and ministers, including in the Cabinet – that we’ve got the best deal and the best plan to get the best deal.”

Asked if reports the Government was planning to stockpile food for a no deal outcome were true, Mr Raab told the BBC: “No. That kind of selective snippet that makes it into the media I think is – to the extent that the public pay attention to it – I think is unhelpful.”

Pressed on claims the M26 in Kent could partially become a lorry park, the Brexit Secretary said: “Well, no. But of course if we have no deal we will want to make sure that we’re prepared at the border with the knock-on effects that that would have if on the EU side they take the worst case scenario approach, which is frankly irrational. I’m confident we won’t get there.”

On a second referendum, Sir John told The Andrew Marr Show: “I mean, frankly, a second vote has democratic downsides. It has difficulties.

“But is it morally justified? I think it is.

“A referendum isn’t an easy option, but it’s not one at this stage that I would rule out.”

Sir John said he feared the hardline stance of a group of arch-Brexiteer Tory MPs could now see the UK “crash out” of the EU without a deal.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for the Government to “step up” Brexit negotiations in order to avoid a no deal.

“It seems to me they are putting their priority into stepping up preparations for a no deal.

“I just get the feeling that the tail is wagging the dog in the Conservative Party and those that want no deal seem to be ruling the roost and they are pushing for that.

“I believe there has to be serious stepping up of negotiations to reach an agreement on customs and on trade.”

Conservative former minister Dominic Grieve said no deal would be “absolutely catastrophic” for the UK, adding on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We will be in a state of emergency – basic services we take for granted might not be available.”

Former Brexit secretary David Davis has urged the Prime Minister to “reset” her negotiating strategy.

Mr Davis, who quit as Brexit secretary in protest at the Chequers agreement, said the PM needed to “start again” on withdrawal plans.

“We’re going to have to do a reset and come back and look at it all again,” he told the Sunday Express.

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