Philip Hammond has admitted to ‘using a poor choice of words’ after he called the EU ‘the enemy’ in a television interview.
The chancellor quickly backed away from words that risked inflaming Brexit talks, saying he regretted his potentially volatile comments moments after they appeared on Sky News.
He wrote on Twitter: ‘In an interview today I was making the point that we are united at home.
‘I regret I used a poor choice of words.’
The comments came hours after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker suggested that delays in the talks were due to Britain’s failure to meet EU demands that it meet all financial commitments it made as a member of the bloc.
He said: ‘They have to pay.
‘If you are sitting in a bar and if you are ordering 28 beers and then suddenly one of your colleagues is leaving and is not paying – that’s not feasible.’
Mr Hammond told Sky that British officials should put their differences aside and work together on Brexit.
He said: ‘The enemy, the opponents, are out there, they’re on the other side of the negotiating table.
‘Those are the people we have to negotiate with, negotiate hard to get the very best deal for Britain.’
Various EU estimates suggest that Britain’s divorce bill could amount to between €60 billion (£53 billion) to €100 billion (£89 billion). The government has rejected such numbers.
EU leaders, without Theresa May, are preparing to launch preliminary talks on the outline of the EU-UK relationship once Britain leaves on March 29, 2019.
Leaders want EU ministers and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to start internal preparatory discussions on future tires, allowing the EU to move quickly if sufficient progress is made on the terms of the divorce agreement by December.
But negotiations are moving slowly as leaders insist progress must be made on the bill, the rights of citizens and the future state of the Northern Ireland-Ireland border.
The leaders, who meet in Brussels on Oct 19-20 and again in mid-December, have refused to talk about future relations until that happens.