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'Incompetent' government advisers blasted over Brexit deadlock

By Jennifer McKiernan, Press Association Political Staff

UK Government advisers have come under fire for "incompetence" over Brexit deadlock.

Former Conservative leader and hard Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith and Remain campaigner Gina Miller, who wants a second referendum, both attacked advisers after Theresa May's plan was rejected in Salzburg.

European Council president Donald Tusk ripped up Mrs May's blueprint, saying it risked the integrity of the EU single market and the Northern Ireland border, in a move widely regarded as a humiliation for the Prime Minister after two days of talks.

In response, Mr Duncan Smith said there were "question marks" over how the Chequers plan - dismissed as unworkable by the EU - had got so far.

He stopped short of calling for top UK adviser Olly Robbins to consider his position, but said advisers had blundered and Downing Street should "look carefully" at why.

"This advice has been off from the word go," he said. "From the word go there have been question marks over why we were pursuing this when it's quite clear and obvious the EU couldn't accept it.

"I'm genuinely concerned Chequers was designed by people who were telling her (Theresa May) this was acceptable to the EU and 'don't worry we will get there'.

"It's clearly a matter for Downing Street to seriously look at, to understand and quickly backtrack why it was the Chequers deal got proposed, because apparently it had been discussed with the EU and they accepted it.

"Him (Olly Robbins) and others, the whole team, really need to look at this - why we were on Chequers when Chequers so obviously wasn't going to cut the mustard."

Anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller also pointed the finger at advisers, saying the latest Brexit impasse "stinks of incompetence".

She accepted Mr Tusk's Instagram post mocking Mrs May - showing the pair looking at cakes with the caption "A piece of cake, perhaps? Sorry, no cherries" - was "childish".

But she said fault lay more on the UK side: "I would accept there is a level of acrimony and frustration that the EU has not moved.

"They have made it very clear where they stand and the UK has been so focused on its own infighting that they actually have not been listening.

"How can she have been so badly advised? It stinks of incompetence, the whole thing, when the moment of reality is only four weeks away."

Former cabinet minister Stephen Crabb was more angry at EU leaders, who he said had sought to "belittle" Mrs May in Salzburg.

Remainer Mr Crabb said he still backed the Prime Minister's plan but the EU's attitude was pushing him into the arms of hard Brexit rebels in the European Research Group (ERG) led by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

He said: "The manner in which they sought to belittle and put down the Prime Minister yesterday pushes people like me... into a position where we say 'the quicker we're out of this circus, the better'.

"The trouble with the position the EU took yesterday is it pushes people like me further into the camp of those who say 'look, we told you so, there's no compromise or flexibility to be found on the EU side'.

"You come away having some sympathy for the language they (the ERG) have been speaking.

"But you have to engage your brain. My gut feeling may have been this negotiation isn't worth a candle but we have got to stick with it."

Mrs May remains wedded to the Chequers blueprint, which is the only proposal on the table as the deadline approaches, although she indicated the UK will unveil new measures on the future status of the Northern Ireland border in a bid to break the deadlock.

The eventful two-day EU summit in Austria also heard German Chancellor Angela Merkel talk of the need for "substantial progress" over the next four weeks, and French President Emmanuel Macron describe leaders of the Brexit campaign who told British voters it would be easy as "liars".

The next major milestone in the process is fast approaching, with the October 18 summit labelled a "moment of truth" by Mr Tusk.

An additional Brexit summit could be held in November, but only if a deal is within reach.

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