Theresa May refuses to rule out 'no deal' option in Brexit strategy

Updated: 

Prime Minister Theresa May has been urged to listen to British business and rule out a no deal option over Brexit.

Tory former minister Anna Soubry referenced a letter from business representatives to the Government which she said warned of the "consequences of no deal and relying on World Trade Organisation rules".

After Mrs May updated the Commons about the latest EU Council, Ms Soubry said: "They said the Government should give certainty to business by immediately ruling this option out under any circumstances.

"Will the Prime Minister agree to listen to British businesses and would she even go so far today as finally to rule out no deal."

But Mrs May said the Government had been "engaging with" and "listening to" business, adding: "I was very clear that the implementation period was something that business was very keen on having and ensuring that they had that smooth and orderly process of withdrawal.

"But we are in a negotiation with the EU 27 and I think it is important to remember as part of that negotiation that if we want to get a good deal for the United Kingdom, I think the best way to get a bad deal for the UK is to say that we will accept anything that they give us, regardless.

"We have to be clear that what we are working for is a good deal but I am optimistic about that because we have made some progress and I believe that the good deal that we're seeking is in the interest of both sides."

Anna Soubry asked the Prime Minister if she was ready ready to rule out a no deal
Anna Soubry asked the Prime Minister if she was ready ready to rule out a no deal (Yui Mok/PA)

Conservative former cabinet minister Ken Clarke warned that "damaging delay" would be caused if progress is not made soon in the talks.

He said the "main problem is that other European leaders can see that a noisy minority in the Cabinet and on the back benches of her own party have persuaded themselves that no deal at all is completely desirable".

"This causes them to doubt whether she is able to produce a clear picture of where she eventually wants to go and whether she's able to produce a majority here for any agreement they have with her."

Mr Clarke suggested "appointing some trusted minister" to make "approaches to leading members of the opposition parties to see if they will live up to some of the things the leader appears to say" so there can be a "consensus in this parliament in the national interest on the outline of a transitional deal".

Mrs May joked that it sounded "rather like a job application", and said: "What is clear from my interaction with European leaders is that they recognise that the vision that I set out in the Florence speech for that deep and special partnership for the future, and also for the implementation period, did bring clarity into the thinking of the United Kingdom."