BIRMINGHAM (England) • Britain cannot be bullied, Brexit minister Dominic Raab said yesterday, sharpening the government's criticism of the European Union for taunting Prime Minister Theresa May and souring difficult Brexit talks.
Mrs May's ministers have come out one by one at their party's annual conference in the city of Birmingham to warn the EU that they will embrace leaving without a deal if the bloc fails to show "respect" in the talks to end Britain's membership.
Just six months before Britain is due to leave the EU in the country's biggest shift in foreign and trade policy in more than 40 years, Mrs May faces growing criticism over her proposals not only within her governing party but also in Brussels.
Party unity is on ministers' minds, and they are encouraging the faithful to direct their anger at the EU rather than at their Prime Minister, whom some euro-sceptic Conservatives accuse of leading Britain towards a "Brexit in name only".
Mr Raab said he had called on the EU to match the "ambition and pragmatism" Britain had put forward with Mrs May's Chequers proposals, named after her country residence where an agreement with her ministers was hashed out in July.
"Unfortunately, that wasn't on display in Salzburg," he said, describing a summit last month in the Austrian city where EU leaders rejected parts of the plan.
"Our Prime Minister has been constructive and respectful. In return, we heard jibes from senior leaders and we saw a starkly one-sided approach to negotiation.
"What is unthinkable is that this government, or any British government, could be bullied by the threat of some kind of economic embargo, into signing a one-sided deal against our country's interests," he added.
Other ministers, such as Finance Minister Philip Hammond, have taken a softer tone, pointing out that leaving without a deal could hurt Britain's economy, the world's fifth largest.
But his softer line won less support at the conference than those adopted by Mr Raab, Trade Minister Liam Fox and Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt, who on Sunday compared the EU with the Soviet Union which could turn into a prison from which not only Britain would want to escape.
Mr Raab summed up Britain's new combative stance. "The EU's theological approach allows no room for serious compromise," he said. "If the EU wants a deal, it needs to get serious."