Liam Fox slaps down Cabinet colleagues over plan to halt no-deal Brexit
Liam Fox has warned that a Commons plan to kill off a no-deal Brexit would "fundamentally weaken our position" - just a day after three of his Cabinet colleagues broke ranks to back the proposal.
The International Trade Secretary said Britain would lose its "single strongest card" in talks with the EU if MPs swing behind the plot in the Commons next week.
Theresa May faces a major cross-party effort to block a no-deal Brexit next week, as backbenchers push an amendment which would seek to extend Article 50 and delay Britain's departure if the Prime Minister cannot get backing for her deal by mid-March.
Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark on Saturday publicly indicated their support for the plan, writing in the Daily Mail: "If there is no breakthrough in the coming week, the balance of opinion in Parliament is clear – that it would be better to seek to extend Article 50 and delay our date of departure rather than crash out of the European Union on March 29."
But, in a direct rebuke to his Cabinet colleagues, Dr Fox took aim at the plot to push for an Article 50 extension.
He told the Sunday Telegraph: "Taking no-deal off the table would be to remove the single strongest card that we have in our negotiation with the EU itself and would therefore fundamentally weaken our position ... While [I] do not want to see a no-deal scenario, the risk of failing to deliver on Brexit itself is too great to be contemplated."
His comments came as a string of Cabinet ministers launched bitter briefings against Ms Rudd, seen as the ringleader of efforts to pressure Mrs May into taking a no-deal Brexit off the table.
One told the Sunday Times Ms Rudd was "the fifth columnist of a stop Brexit bandwagon", while another accused the Work and Pensions Secretary, who was brought back into the Government earlier this year, of "astonishing disloyalty".
Another said of the trio of Ms Rudd, Mr Gauke and Mr Clark: "Too many egos are being flaunted around. They must stop using their position to advance their own leadership bids."
Northern Ireland minister John Penrose meanwhile warned that stopping Britain from leaving the EU without a deal "could torpedo Brexit completely".
"By ruling out a World Trade Organisation ‘no-deal’ Brexit completely, we’d have built an enormous elephant trap for ourselves, and there’d be no way to climb out," he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.
"In the end, the temporary extensions would become permanent. We’d never leave."
The Prime Minister on Saturday sought to reassure restive Conservative grassroots activists that she would not do anything to jeopardise the result of the 2016 referendum.
As local Tory bosses heaped pressure on MPs not to delay Britain's EU exit, Mrs May told the National Conservative Convention her focus on Brexit was "absolute".
"We must not, and I will not, frustrate what was the largest democratic exercise in this country’s history,” she said.
"In the very final stages of this process, the worst thing we could do is lose our focus."
The comments comes as Mrs May prepared to fly to Egypt for an EU-League of Arab State Summit at which she is expected to continue to press European leaders on her plan to alter the controversial Northern Ireland backstop element of her Brexit deal.