BREXIT secretary Dominic Raab picked a fight with Waitrose yesterday, after he ridiculed bosses from the John Lewis Partnership for blaming a 98.8% drop in profits on Britain’s planned exit from the EU.

The owner of the department store chain and supermarket posted underlying pre-tax profits of just £1.2 million for the six months to July 28.

That was, in part, the firm said, because of their Never Knowingly Undersold pledge and strong competition from the high street, and in part because of Brexit uncertainty.

Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, said: “These are challenging times in retail.”

He said because of other retailers discounting heavily, the group was seeing the “most promotional market we’ve seen in almost a decade”.

Mayfield added: “With the level of uncertainty facing consumers and the economy, in part due to ongoing Brexit negotiations, forecasting is particularly difficult, but we continue to expect full-year profits to be substantially lower than last year for the Partnership as a whole.”

The National: Dominic Raab

But Raab (pictured), when asked to address the Partnership’s concerns, said: “I think it’s probably rather easy at this moment in time for any business that isn’t doing rather well to point to Brexit.”

He added: “I don’t doubt that some of the uncertainty around these negotiations will have an impact on business — that’s why we are putting all our energy into getting the good deal we want with our EU friends and partners.

“All I am just gently saying is that it’s rather easy for a business to blame Brexit and the politicians rather than take responsibility for their own situation.”

Mayfield later hit back: “This whole thing is so frothy. I didn’t say Brexit was the reason for our result.

“The fact is sterling is weaker, it’s more expensive to import goods... so we have to absorb that within our margin.

“I’m not going to get into some sort of ding-dong with the secretary of state for all things EU.”

SNP Westminster Brexit spokesman Stephen Gethins called Raab’s comments “crass”.

He said: “This is yet another example of the Tories trying to make excuses for a Brexit mess of their own making.

“They think they can inflict serious damage on our economy with impunity – and then try to shift the blame on to others.

“Dominic Raab should apologise for his crass comments – for him to claim that legitimate concerns about Brexit raised by major UK employers are just an excuse is nothing short of a disgrace.

“Dominic Raab and the Tories have once again missed the point. They continue to prove their absolute arrogance, and demonstrate that they are not fit to run the country.”

It was the department stores that dragged down the Partnership. They slumped to an underlying operating loss of £19.2m from earnings of £54.4m a year earlier.

Waitrose remained in profit.