Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has accused the EU of “irresponsibly” ramping up pressure in withdrawal negotiations.
The comments came as Mr Raab indicated he was still trying to persuade all members of the Cabinet that Theresa May’s Chequers compromise agreement was “the best plan to get the best deal”.
As Mr Raab, who has said a deal with the EU can be reached by October, readied to return to Brussels for more Brexit talks on Thursday he signalled that Britain could withhold its £39 billion divorce bill if it did not get a trade deal in return.
And Tory former prime minister Sir John Major became the latest prominent Conservative to leave the door open to a new referendum, insisting that such a vote would be “morally justified”.
Mr Raab was scathing about comments from Brussels stating that a no deal scenario would mean there would be no specific arrangements in place for UK citizens living on the continent, or for EU migrants in Britain after withdrawal.
Mr Raab told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show: “Well, I think that’s a rather irresponsible thing to be coming from the other side.
“We ought to be trying to reassure citizens on the continent and also here.
“There is obviously an attempt to try and ramp up the pressure.”
The Brexit Secretary said there had to be “conditionality” under the Article 50 withdrawal mechanism between settling Britain’s exit payment and creating a new relationship with the EU.
He told the Sunday Telegraph: “Article 50 requires, as we negotiate the withdrawal agreement, that there’s a future framework for our new relationship going forward, so the two are linked.
“You can’t have one side fulfilling its side of the bargain and the other side not, or going slow, or failing to commit on its side.
“So, I think we do need to make sure that there’s some conditionality between the two.”
The comments appeared at odds with Chancellor Philip Hammond, who said of the divorce payment last December: “I find it inconceivable that we as a nation would be walking away from an obligation that we recognised as an obligation.
“That is not a credible scenario. That is not the kind of country we are. Frankly, it would not make us a credible partner for future international agreements.”
Mr Raab also defended the controversial Chequers Cabinet compromise on withdrawal aims, insisting he wanted to persuade voters and Cabinet colleagues that it is the way forward.
The Brexit Secretary said: “I want to make sure we can persuade everyone - grassroots, voters, parliamentary party and ministers, including in the Cabinet - that we’ve got the best deal and the best plan to get the best deal.”
The Brexit Secretary said critics were mistaken to think Mrs May would not walk away without a deal if she had to.
“They’re wrong. No bluffing.”
On a second referendum, Sir John told The Andrew Marr Show: “I mean, frankly, a second vote has democratic downsides. It has difficulties.
“But is it morally justified? I think it is.
“A referendum isn’t an easy option, but it’s not one at this stage that I would rule out.”
Sir John said he feared the hardline stance of a group of arch-Brexiteer Tory MPs could now see the UK “crash out” of the EU without a deal.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis has urged the Prime Minister to “reset” her negotiating strategy.
Mr Davis, who quit as Brexit secretary in protest at the Chequers agreement, said the PM needed to “start again” on withdrawal plans.
“We’re going to have to do a reset and come back and look at it all again,” he told the Sunday Express.
“I think when we get to the autumn, if we are in the situation where we don’t have any degree of agreement, we’re going to have to start again.”
Preparations for no deal need to accelerate from the current position of “consult and cajole” to “command and control”, he told the paper.
“By the end of the summer it should be plain we are making proper preparations for this,” he said.
On Sunday sugar maker Tate & Lyle, which backed Brexit, said the Prime Minister’s white paper was confusing.
The comments came as a new poll suggested only 16% of voters think Mrs May is handling negotiations well, while 34% believe former foreign secretary Boris Johnson would do a better job.
Conservative former minister Dominic Grieve said no deal would be “absolutely catastrophic” for the UK, adding on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We will be in a state of emergency - basic services we take for granted might not be available.”
Mr Grieve said he did not believe Mrs May is at risk, but added: “The only group that could possibly bring the Prime Minister down is if the group of my hard Brexit colleagues so lose the plot that they decide that is an effective way for them to proceed.”