U.K. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay dismissed claims he told EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier the withdrawal deal was “dead” during an angry exchange in Brussels last week.
The Times reported the pair had a terse meeting over how the Brexit issue could be resolved by the next prime minister.
“He told Barnier that the Withdrawal Agreement was dead — not once but five times,” a senior EU diplomat told the paper. “If this is what is coming then we will be heading for no-deal very quickly.”
But appearing before MPs on the Brexit select committee this morning, Barclay said the reports about the spat were “misleading.”
He said: “In terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, what I said was that the House [of Commons] had rejected it three times, including the third time by a significant margin; that the European election results in my view had further hardened attitudes across the house and that the text, unchanged, I did not envisage going through the house.”
He added: “I don’t think that was a particularly controversial observation.”
Barclay said he asked Barnier to agree a side deal on citizens rights and data sharing, but said he did not ask about whether the two sides could agree continued trade arrangements under the so-called GATT 24 rules after a no-deal Brexit.
A spokesman for Barnier refused to comment on the meeting, but pointed to the tweet the EU chief sent out after the meeting, in which he said agreeing a Brexit deal “remains our priority.”
Elsewhere at the hearing, Barclay suggested the government could try to compensate sheep farmers if they have to slaughter flocks after a no-deal Brexit, saying there was a “huge amount of effort” going into the issue, including meetings with industry bodies this week.
He also suggested car manufacturers could be awarded compensation if they are hit with a 10 percent tariff following a no-deal departure.
He said British Prime Minister Theresa May was meeting with car manufacturers this week, adding: “We would also have to look at what support we can give to the industry and there are various computations of that.”
But anti-Brexit group Best for Britain said any compensation for car manufacturers following a no-deal departure would have to be worth more than £25 billion.
Barclay also suggested the U.K. would take a “continuity approach” to fishing waters after a no-deal, suggesting EU boats would continue to enjoy access to British seas. And he said the possibility of the U.K. leaving the bloc without a deal on October 31 was “underpriced.”