The Leader of the House of Commons has accused the EU of “playing games” following Brussels’ latest Brexit proposal as tensions rise during last-ditch negotiations.
Andrea Leadsom said she was “deeply disappointed with what we’re hearing coming out of the EU” with just days to go before the latest vote on Theresa May’s latest Brexit plans.
It followed an unprecedented Twitter clash between Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Friday.
Mr Barclay claimed Brussels was trying to “rerun old arguments” in negotiations as he demanded the EU agree to “balanced proposals”.
Hours earlier, Mr Barnier had indicated that the UK did not like the deal on the table, it could accept an alternative previously rejected by the PM.
Less than three weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, Mrs May has failed to secure the changes to her controversial Brexit deal.
At the heart of the dispute is a disagreement over how to manage the border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.
On Friday, Mr Barnier put forward a proposal to keep the border open and keep the province subject to EU rules, prompting London to reject it.
Following the suggestion, Ms Leadsom told Reuters: “There is still hope, but I have to say I’m deeply disappointed with what we’re hearing coming out of the EU.
“I do have to ask myself what game are they playing here.”
Asked who would be to blame if Mrs May loses the parliamentary vote again on Tuesday, Mrs Leadsom said: “I would point to the EU needing to work closely with us.
“We are hoping we will be able to win that vote but that does depend on the EU coming to the table and taking seriously the (UK’s) proposals.”
Guy Verhofstadt, Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament, backed Mr Barnier.
“He has put forward constructive additions, now we wait for a credible response from the UK to ensure an orderly Brexit,” he said on Saturday.
Talks will continue in Brussels but without a major breakthrough Mrs May looks set to lose the second meaningful vote on her deal.
The main sticking point is the so-called Northern Irish backstop, an insurance policy to prevent a return of border controls in Ireland that eurosceptics believe is an attempt to trap the country in the EU’s customs union indefinitely.
Mr Barnier’s solution would potentially create a “border” in the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, a move that is particularly unpalatable to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Brandon Lewis, chairman of the Conservative Party, said on Saturday that the Government could never accept a deal which threatened the integrity of the union.
Mrs Leadsom said were Britain to leave the EU without a withdrawal deal it would be harder to guarantee the smooth flow of goods and people across the Irish border that has been possible since 1998.
“In making it impossible for us to sign up to that (deal), it actually makes the problems with the Northern Irish border harder to solve, not easier to solve,” she said.
Mrs May warned on Friday that if MPs rejected her deal on Tuesday, it would increase the chance that Brexit never happens, leaving voters feeling betrayed.
If her deal is rejected, MPs will be able to vote on Wednesday and Thursday on whether they want to leave the bloc without a deal or ask for a delay to Brexit beyond March 29.
Additional reporting by agencies.