Chancellor Philip Hammond has criticized claims from European Union officials that Britain has a “fantasy” approach to Brexit negotiations. Mr Hammond insisted that talks with EU officials were “constructive” after reports from the continent that Britain was being “unrealistic” and little progress made in discussions in recent days.
He spoke on Friday after Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief Europe adviser Olly Robbins had also praised Government efforts. Arriving in Brussels for talks with other finance ministers at the Economic and Financial Affairs Council, Mr Hammond said: “We are having very constructive discussions, I don’t think that is a particularly helpful comment.”
“There are obviously a wide range of views on both sides but everybody that I have engaged with has been very constructive, very keen, to find a way to move forward.”
“We are very conscious of the ticking clock and the need to make significant progress for the June European Council and that is what we are here to do.”
The increase in tension emerged after the UK made clear it would seek a return of £1 billion in funding it has put into the Galileo satellite system if the EU continued to shut Britain out of key aspects of the project post-Brexit.
Mr Hammond added that the UK was prepared to see external non-European partners to develop its own rival to Galileo and the US GPS system if it had to, saying: “We need access to a satellite system of this kind, our plan has always been to work as a core member of the Galileo project, contributing financially and technically to the project.”
“If that proves impossible then Britain will have to go it alone, possibly with other partners outside Europe and the US, to build a third competing system. For national security strategic reasons, we need access to a system and we will ensure we will get it.”
Mr Robbins had earlier insisted that Britain has presented its case “calmly and professionally” during talks with Brussels. The PM’s key Brexit adviser tweeted: “Very proud of the x-Government team that worked so hard to support technical talks in Brussels this week. UK proposals for a deep relationship, calmly and professionally presented.”
The move followed reports that a senior EU official insisted Britain must accept the “consequences” of its decision to quit the bloc and abandon the “fantasy” that things would remain the same.
The spat also came as Bank of England governor Mark Carney said a “disorderly” Brexit transition period may trigger a cut in interest rates, or force a pumping of money into the economy, in order to stabilize the situation.
The UK central bank’s current projections are based on a smooth transition when Britain leaves the European Union, he said in a speech on Thursday, before warning that “a sharper Brexit could put monetary policy on a different path”.
Addressing the Society of Professional Economists, he said that if that happened, the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) would face “a trade-off between the speed with which it returns inflation to target and the support policy provides to jobs and activity”.
Earlier this week, Mr Carney said Brexit has knocked real household incomes by around £900, and lowered growth by “up to 2%” against what the Bank of England had expected in 2016 if the UK had voted to remain in the EU.