David Davis is facing damaging accusations that the Government is “tearing itself apart” over Brexit, as the critical negotiations resume in Brussels.
The Brexit Secretary will hold fresh talks with the European Commission’s chief negotiator on Monday, just a day after the Cabinet’s deep policy split was revealed by the Chancellor.
Philip Hammond lifted the lid on Cabinet feuding by claiming damaging stories about him had come from fellow ministers out to get him because he is pushing for a softer Brexit.
Meanwhile, Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, fired his own warning shot by laying down strict conditions for any transitional deal, as demanded by the Chancellor.
Mr Fox ruled out any delay to full EU withdrawal that prevented Britain from signing trade deals with non-EU countries from day one after departure day, in March 2019.
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, seized on the splits, saying: “The Conservative Government is more interested in tearing itself apart than getting on with the monumental challenge it has set itself on Brexit.”
In Brussels, Mr Davis is expected to insist the Government is now ready to “get down to business”, after EU warnings that “the clock is ticking” on Britain.
He will press for agreement on the future rights of three million EU citizens living in the UK, and one million Britons living in the EU, as his “personal priority” for the second round of the talks.
EU leaders have already rejected Theresa May’s “generous offer” to EU citizens in the UK as falling short, insisting it will deprive them of some current rights.
But Mr Davis will say: “We made a good start last month and this week we’ll be getting into the real substance.
“Protecting the rights of all our citizens is the priority for me going into this round and I’m clear that it’s something we must make real progress on.”
The other key conflicts are over the size of the divorce bill that Britain must pay to meet its obligations to the EU and over the threat to the border with the Republic of Ireland.
Crucially, last month, Mr Davis caved in to the EU’s insistence that the talks would only move onto trade when “enough progress” had been made on Brussels’ three priorities.
Last week, Michel Barnier, the Commission’s negotiator – in warning the “clock is ticking” – called on Mr Davis to properly explain Britain’s position as the talks resume, laying bare Brussels’ frustration.
Setting out the huge difficulties ahead, Mr Barnier said: “How do you build a relationship based on trade and security to last with a country where you don’t have trust?”
The talks resume against the backdrop of the Chancellor lashing out against un-named colleagues he accused of briefing against him.
Mr Hammond all but admitted a report that he had told the Cabinet that public sector workers are “overpaid” was true – while denying he had said “even a woman” can drive a train.
Asked why colleagues are “going for you”, he pointed to disputes over Brexit, saying: “If you want my opinion, some of the noise is generated by people who are not happy with the agenda that I have.”
Mr Farron added: “Philip Hammond recognises that leaving the single market would be catastrophic for the UK economy, yet Theresa May and much of the Conservative Cabinet is pushing through a disastrous extreme Brexit.”
And Jeremy Corbyn said: “It seems quite extraordinary that we’re having varying accounts coming out of every Cabinet meeting about who said what to who and at what point in the meeting they said it, and everybody saying nothing actually happened.”