PM receiving bad briefings on no-deal preparations, says resigning minister

Theresa May’s determination to avoid a no-deal Brexit has been fuelled by bad briefings on the perils of quitting the EU without an agreement, a former minister has said.

Chris Heaton-Harris, who quit as Brexit minister on Wednesday, said that briefings received by the Prime Minister failed to reflect the scale of preparations which have been completed on both sides of the Channel.

The Daventry MP, whose responsibilities included contingency planning for no deal, said he believed the UK could “swiftly” overcome any difficulties and go on to thrive without a Withdrawal Agreement.

But he said that Mrs May’s insistence on not leaving without a deal made his job “irrelevant”.

He said he believed Britain should have quit without a deal on the scheduled date of March 29 and could not support the second delay to Brexit which Mrs May is set to request at an EU summit next week.

In his letter of resignation to Mrs May, Mr Heaton-Harris said that civil servants in the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) and across Government had “moved mountains” to prepare the UK for no deal.

“Unfortunately, I do not believe the briefings you have received on these matters recently have reflected all they have achieved or the preparations our European partners have made,” he told the PM.

“However, I completely understand you do not want to leave the European Union without a negotiated deal and that obviously makes my job in Government irrelevant.”

Mr Heaton-Harris said that no-deal preparations were “well advanced”.

“Whilst I would have preferred to leave the European Union with your deal, I truly believe our country would have swiftly overcome any immediate issues of leaving without a deal and gone on to thrive,” he said.

He added: “I have constantly voted in Parliament for us to leave the European Union on March 29 2019. I truly believe we should have honoured the result of the 2016 referendum and left on that date.

“Indeed, every time we seek an extension to this process we diminish faith in our political system and the good people, from all political parties, who serve within it. I simply cannot support any further extension to Article 50 and this obviously means I cannot stay in Government.”

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister was saddened to hear of this decision by a dedicated and skilful minister to resign from Government.

“Chris Heaton-Harris has been doing crucial work in ensuring that the country is prepared to leave the EU in all scenarios, and the PM thanks him for his service.”

An MEP from 1999-2009, Mr Heaton-Harris was elected to Parliament in 2010 and was appointed a whip by Mrs May when she came to office in 2016.

He was promoted to a junior ministerial post at DExEU in July 2018, replacing arch-Brexiteer Steve Baker in the reshuffle prompted by a rash of resignations following the PM’s Chequers deal. He is a former chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers.