Liam Fox accuses EU of acting 'like a gang' over Brexit negotiations
Liam Fox has accused the European Union of using "the language of a gang" over calls for the UK to be "punished" for Brexit.
The International Trade Secretary said Brussels should not let "political ideology" get in the way of securing a withdrawal agreement which is mutually beneficial for both the UK and the EU.
A report last December suggested the EU could insert a "punishment clause" in any trade deal to allow Brussels to place tariffs on some British exports.
In a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce in London, Dr Fox - who was a leading Leave campaigner in the referendum - called on the EU to take a pragmatic approach to the negotiations.
He said: "That is largely dependent on the balance between the political ideology of an ever closer union that sees Britain’s exit set an example to others that it is painful.
"The idea of punishing Britain to me is not the language of a club, it is the language a gang."
But his comments were criticised by pro-EU politicians.
Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, of the Best for Britain campaign group, said: "Liam Fox is once again demonstrating his knack for losing friends and alienating people.
"The UK’s best chance of securing a good deal with the EU is for the discussions to be conducted cordially, accusing the other side of being a ‘gang’ only turns up the heat."
Former Labour frontbencher Chuka Umunna, who supports the Open Britain group, accused the minister of "desperately trying to shift the blame for the total mess his own Government is making of Brexit".
"Language like calling the EU a ‘gang’ is the kind of ham-fisted diplomacy that only serves to reduce the good will we need on the other side of the negotiating table," he said.
"The only people responsible for the ongoing Brexit omnishambles is Liam Fox and the rest of the Cabinet. It is they who have taken sensible options off the table for our future relationship with our friends and allies in Europe and then whine that it’s someone else’s fault when they realise they’ve painted themselves into a corner.
"Instead of name calling, the Government should take a long, hard look at themselves and admit that the deal we can negotiate is a direct consequence of their self-imposed red lines."