Government not ruling out no-deal Brexit, minister insists

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay has rejected suggestions that the Government has ruled out a no-deal Brexit.

Senior negotiator Olly Robbins was reported to have been overheard in a Brussels bar saying that Theresa May planned to wait until the end of March before confronting MPs with a choice between her deal or a lengthy delay to Brexit.

But Mr Barclay insisted that it remained “the agreed position of the Cabinet” to work to secure a favourable deal but to plan for the possibility of no-deal.

Asked whether Mr Robbins’ reported comments reflected Government policy, the Brexit Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No. The Prime Minister has been very clear that we are committed to leaving on March 29.”

Mrs May is facing a potential confrontation with Eurosceptic Conservatives, who have warned they will not back the motion she has tabled for debate on Thursday, which they believe effectively endorses a policy of ruling out no-deal.

The motion asks the Commons to reaffirm its decisions in an earlier Brexit debate on January 29, when amendments were passed requiring the PM to go back to Brussels to replace the controversial Irish backstop, but also rejecting a no-deal outcome.

Brexit
Brexit

One member of the Leave-backing backbench European Research Group (ERG) told the BrexitCentral website: “We told the Government very clearly last night that we will not support this motion and in fact we urged them, indeed pleaded with them at senior level, to withdraw it yesterday – but they took absolutely no notice. Frankly, we despair.”

Meanwhile shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said Labour was committed to preventing Theresa May from pursuing a “reckless” policy of running down the clock to the point where MPs may be faced with a choice between her deal or no-deal with just days to go to the March 29 deadline.

Labour has tabled an amendment for debate in the Commons on Thursday which would require the Government to either put her deal to a vote by February 27 or allow Parliament to take control of the process.

Brexit
Brexit

Sir Keir, who is due to meet Mr Barclay on Wednesday, said Labour will also support a proposal from backbencher Yvette Cooper.

Ms Cooper’s amendment, backed by senior MPs from across the House including former Conservative chairwoman Dame Caroline Spelman and ex-Cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin, would require a vote by the middle of March on delaying Brexit, unless Mrs May secures Parliament’s support for either her deal or a no-deal withdrawal.

Sir Keir told Today that Labour “will support that”, but sidestepped the question of whether frontbenchers who vote against or abstain would lose their jobs.

Several shadow ministers were allowed to stay in post despite disobeying orders to back an earlier amendment from Ms Cooper last month.

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer

“I’m clear what my job is on this, and that is to get amendments down that stop the Prime Minister doing what she’s doing, because it is actually a reckless policy,” said Sir Keir.

He added: “What the Prime Minister is up to is obvious. She’s coming to Parliament every other week, pretending there’s progress and trying to buy another two weeks, edging her way towards March 21, when the next EU summit is, to try to put her deal up against no-deal in those final few weeks.

“Parliament needs to say ‘That’s not on’.”