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Liam Fox accuses EU of trying to ‘blackmail’ UK over Brexit deal

Speaking from Japan, international trade secretary hits back at Barnier claims that British government is unrealistic about financial settlement

The international trade secretary, Liam Fox, has ratcheted up the governments war of words with the EU over Brexit by saying Britain will not be blackmailed into paying an excessive exit settlement to speed up a deal.

Foxs comment follows a tense press conference in Brussels on Thursday after the third round of exit talks, in which the EUs chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, accused the UK of being mired in nostalgia rather than taking a realistic approach.

Speaking in Tokyo on Friday, where he is accompanying Theresa May on a trip focused on post-Brexit trade, Fox was asked by ITV news whether it was time for Britain to agree on the much-disputed departure settlement with the EU, hastening progress towards the second, trade-focused part of the process.

We cant be blackmailed into paying a price on the first part, Fox said.

He continued: We think we should begin discussions on the final settlement because thats good for business, and its good for the prosperity both of the British people and of the rest of the people of the European Union.

Speaking later to Sky News, Fox said he was concerned the Brexit talks were stuck on the initial issues.

I think there is frustration that we have not been able to get on that longer-term issue, that were stuck on this separation issue, and were 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.

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 was speaking ahead of Mays final leg of a three-day trip to Kyoto and Tokyo, focused in part on defence and security, but primarily as an exercise in reassuring Japanese businesses that post-Brexit Britain can remain a gateway to the EU.

After a series of talks with her Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, May won a formal agreement with Japan that the two countries will seek to strike a rapid replacement trade deal once Brexit is completed.

This would be closely based on a long-negotiated economic partnership agreement between the EU and Japan, which both sides aim to sign soon. May hopes such instant copycat deals termed cut-and-paste Brexit by opponents could be reached with other nations, creating continuity and confidence. They would officially be interim but could last some years before bespoke UK deals are reached.

The release of the joint statement saw Downing Street hail Mays trip to Japan as a great success. However, as she was holding a cordial press conference with Abe in Tokyo, a very different equivalent event was taking place in Brussels.

EU negotiator Barnier, speaking alongside the Brexit secretary, David Davis, warned that the UKs approach to Brexit was nostalgic, unrealistic and undermined by a lack of trust, his strongest criticism of the UKs stance at the talks so far.

Barnier said some of the recent British proposals showed a sort of nostalgia in the form of specific requests which would amount to continuing to enjoy the benefits of the single market and EU membership without actually being part of it.

This drew an acid response from Davis, who remarked that Barnier should not confuse a belief in the free market with nostalgia.

Barnier said he had been left impatient by the British approach and complained there had been no decisive progress. Again, Davis disagreed, insisting progress had been concrete.

May was due to meet Japans Emperor Akihito in Tokyo on Friday morning before attending a wheelchair basketball match, connected to a UK promise to assist Japan ahead of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo. She was then scheduled to fly back to London.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/sep/01/liam-fox-uk-blackmailed-eu-brexit-deal

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