A claim from David Davis in a leaked letter to the prime minister that the EU is discriminating against the UK and damaging its economic interests by preparing for a no-deal scenario in March 2019 has been met with incredulity and accusations of hypocrisy in Brussels.
It has emerged that the government has taken advice on the legality of EU warnings to businesses that emphasise that Britain will be treated as a “third country” after March 2019.
Davis has claimed in a letter, obtained by the Financial Times, that the EU’s warnings could jeopardise existing contracts or even force British companies to move to the continent.
By treating the UK differently from other member states before it leaves the bloc, it suggests the EU’s article 50 taskforce has been acting “in a way which is frequently damaging to UK interests”.
In response, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, told the Guardian that it was the UK government that was guilty of damaging the UK’s economic interests. He defended the bloc’s right to prepare for the worst-case scenario, given the threats from London that the prime minister would rather have “no deal than a bad deal”.
It has been reported that on Tuesday Theresa May will appoint a minister for no deal as part of her highly criticised government reshuffle.
Verhofstadt said: “Businesses’ uncertainty has been created, on both sides of the channel, because of the UK government’s decision to check out of the largest single market in the global economy, not because of the EU’s contingency planning.
“From the very beginning both Prime Minister May and #David Davis have repeatedly stated that no deal is better than a bad deal, so everybody must understand that it is only fair that we plan for this threat.”
In his letter, Davis concedes that the advice from government lawyers is that any move to challenge the European commission in the courts would be “high risk” but he adds that the UK “cannot let these actions go unchallenged”.