The veteran Labour MP advised ministers how they should respond to the European Council president’s suggestion that there was a “special place in hell” for those who pushed for Brexit without a plan. Eurosceptic Mr Skinner, whose nickname is based on his fiery interventions and constituency name, said: “The minister missed an opportunity in the last question but one – he was invited to talk about a rocket. “He should have said this is the answer to Donald Tusk. To get out of hell, we’ve got to fly a rocket.”
International trade minister Graham Stuart replied: “As a member in a party so bereft of optimists, he gives the example to the others that this country does have a great future outside the European Union, and technology – in which we are the undisputed European leader – is fundamental to putting a rocket up not only our industries, but also many of the people he shares those benches with.”
It comes as Theresa May visits Brussels for crunch Brexit talks after insisting that the UK must not be “trapped” in a backstop deal.
The Prime Minister is meeting EU leaders on Thursday in the wake of the latest war of words between the two sides.
She was greeted by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at EU headquarters.
Both leaders struck a business-like stance as they posed for pictures, but did not answer questions.
One reporter asked: “Is this hell Prime Minister?”
David Lidington, who is effectively Mrs May’s deputy, said Mr Tusk’s comment “wasn’t the most brilliant diplomacy in the world”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think Mr Tusk was venting yesterday, but I don’t think that will detract from what I expect to be a courteous and sensible grown-up discussion between the different EU leaders and the Prime Minister.”
Mrs May’s latest diplomatic offensive comes as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote to the PM setting out five demands, including joining a customs union, that would need to be met for Labour to back the Government on Brexit.
The PM is using the top level Brussels talks with Mr Juncker, Mr Tusk and other prominent EU figures to press for legally binding guarantees on the Northern Ireland backstop.
At present the backstop, which is intended to prevent the return of a hard border in Ireland, would see the UK continue to obey EU customs rules after a transition period if no wider trade deal had been reached. Downing Street said that Mrs May is “open to different ways” of achieving her objectives on the backstop.