Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called for calm over the current Brexit impasse – claiming there was always going to come a point in negotiations “where everyone was looking into the abyss”.
Mr Hunt made the comment as he urged the European Union to get serious and give proper consideration to Theresa May’s Chequers exit plan.
The Cabinet minister, who was handed the Foreign Office brief in July after Boris Johnson sensationally quit, also backed the Prime Minister’s resolve and warned the EU and doubters in the UK that “underestimating Theresa May is one of the biggest mistakes that you could make right now”.
Mr Hunt, speaking to Sky News ahead of a UN meeting with fellow diplomats, said: “Negotiations require two parties to engage seriously, that hasn’t been happening and Britain is not going to keep coming back with more.”
“We have put on the table some practical proposals, which mean that we can honour the spirit and letter of the referendum and reassure businesses that they can have the frictionless trade that they want. They’re sensible proposals, we now need some engagement from the EU.”
“At this stage in the negotiations it was always going to be like this, there was always going to be a moment where everyone was looking into the abyss, but now what we need is calm heads to prevail.”
“We need people to look at the very practical proposals that the Prime Minister has put on the table and I think when they look at them they realise that actually this is a very sensible way to deal with all the different tensions, all the different trade-offs.”
The Foreign Secretary also batted off suggestions the Prime Minister was humiliated at the Salzburg summit, where EU leaders publicly rebuffed her plans.
He said: “I think that she stood up for Britain and what she did was she made it clear that she has a bottom line and they needed to hear that.”
“They can see now that they have someone who has deep principles, always treats people with the greatest of courtesy but never mistake British politeness for British weakness.”
“Don’t underestimate Theresa May, I think what’s happening at the moment is that after that very difficult general election, maybe some people in Britain didn’t appreciate the steal at the heart of that lady.”
“We are led by someone very tough and very resilient.”
Mr Hunt’s comments came as Jeremy Corbyn and shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer held talks in Brussels with the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
Labour leader said they had an “interesting, useful discussion”, in which they had set out the party’s position.
“We are obviously not negotiating. We are not in government, we are the opposition,” he told reporters.
“It’s not a negotiation, it’s us informing him of what our views are and he telling us what the state of play was on the negotiations.”
The move comes just days after Mr Corbyn pledged to work with the Prime Minister if she brought forward a “sensible deal”.
The offer was dismissed on Thursday by Tory chairman Brandon Lewis, who said Labour’s plan did not respect the referendum.
Mr Lewis, in an interview with the Evening Standard, said: “Look, I would hope the Labour party and all parliamentarians would back the Prime Minister’s deal.”
“The problem with what Labour outlined is that would not allow us to do global trade deals and therefore doesn’t respect the referendum.”