David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister, has insisted that the EU faces a binary choice between the government’s “Chequers plan” and a no-deal Brexit.
Speaking to French business leaders on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Lidington said there would not be time to draw up any alternative options.
The comments came after President Macron said in his annual foreign policy speech on Monday that he would not accept a Brexit deal that caused the “unravelling of the European Union’s integrity”.
Theresa May, prime minister, flew out to the French president’s holiday home earlier this month to try to persuade him of the merits of the Chequers compromise.
The agreement has been criticised by British Eurosceptics as an unsatisfactory halfway house between membership of and total departure from the EU, and prompted the resignations of both Boris Johnson and David Davis from the cabinet.
Mr Lidington said relations between France and the UK were at a “fork in the road” and the time had come for European leaders to accept London’s “hard-fought compromise”.
“With exactly seven months until the end of the Article 50 process and less than two months ahead of the October European Council we face the choice between the pragmatic proposals we are discussing now with the European Commission, or no deal,” he said.
“I truly feel that we are at a fork in the road. There are trends on both sides of the Channel, both sides of the North Sea, and both sides of the Atlantic that could see us drift apart.”
Mr Lidington also tried to reassure French executives by insisting that Britain would not use Brexit as an excuse to slash red tape or subsidise struggling companies.
The minister — who is widely seen as de facto deputy prime minister — said the Chequers plan was the only option because of the flaws in various other proposals.
First, MPs had already rejected other models such as membership of the European Economic Area because it would have entailed continuing freedom of movement.
Secondly, staying in the customs union — which has also been ruled out — would prevent post-Brexit Britain from striking third party trade deals.
Meanwhile, a “Canada deal” based on the Ceta trade deal between Canada and the EU would not allow London to deliver its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland by avoiding a hard border, he added.
Chris Bryant, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said Mr Lidington was displaying “arrogance”.
“The choice about our future relationship with Europe must be for the people. It cannot be for any minister to set boundaries on what is possible or acceptable,” he said.
“The antidote to this high-handed style of government is a People’s Vote on whatever comes out of the negotiations. Good deal, bad deal or no deal, Brexit is a big deal and it must be for the people to decide.”
Get alerts on Brexit when a new story is published