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Mon, 28 September 2020

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Philip Hammond risks Brexiteer fury as he tells business chiefs MPs could stop no-deal

Philip Hammond risks Brexiteer fury as he tells business chiefs MPs could stop no-deal
4 min read

A "significant majority" of MPs could team up next week to stop a no-deal Brexit and revoke Article 50, Philip Hammond has told business chiefs.


In words that could spark fresh anger from Brexiteers, the Chancellor told the leaders of 330 top firms on a conference call that a bid by former Tory minister Nick Boles to rule out quitting without a deal was "properly drafted" and could succeed.

And he raised the prospect of extending Article 50 - the mechanism by which Britain is due to leave the EU on 29 March - after Theresa May has finished cross-party talks on changes to her ill-fated Brexit plan.

The reassurances to business leaders emerged in a leaked transcript of the Tuesday night call obtained by the Telegraph.

Mr Boles, Nicky Morgan and Oliver Letwin this week unveiled a bill aimed at allowing Parliament to extend Article 50 if the Government fails to come up with an alternative to Mrs May's deal.

Asked by the boss of Tesco whether the Government would "frustrate the progress" of that bid to avoid a no-deal, Mr Hammond said: "My judgement is that there is a significant majority in the House of Commons against no deal.

"What this group of backbenchers has been doing is seeking to find a mechanism by which the House of Commons can express that view in a way which is binding and effective."

On extending Article 50, the Chancellor said: "The sequence has to be first to reach out to opinion across the Commons to establish the terms on which we can build a majority for a way forward in the Commons.

"If necessary go back to the EU to agree changes that are necessary to deliver that consensus. And at that time, if more time is going to be required, to negotiate that with the EU."

'WE CAN'T HAVE NO DEAL'

Meanwhile Business Secretary Greg Clark - who was also on the call alongside Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay - told the business chiefs that a no-deal Brexit could not go ahead.

And he spoke out against a harder form of departure from the bloc in the wake of Mrs May's crushing defeat on Tuesday, when her Brexit deal was defeated in Parliament by 230 votes.

"Our purpose in the next few days is essentially to reflect all the things you have told us," he told the bosses.

"First that we can't have no deal, for all the reasons you set out completely consistently.

"Secondly we need to achieve a deal that allows us at least as close a trading relationship with the rest of the EU as in the agreement that has been negotiated. That is vital.

"The third is that we need to come to a conclusion quickly. This can't go on much longer. As Philip said it is evident that whatever the numbers tonight that was the first vote.

"A lot of people had made prior commitments. But there is a very clear majority in the house not to have no deal, to have a relationship with the EU that will allow you to trade and prosper in future, and to bring this to a conclusion quickly."

Firms represented on the call included Amazon UK, BP, Fujitsu and the Co-operative Group, as well as the CBI business lobby group.

The transcript emerged as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn snubbed talks with Mrs May and demanded that a no-deal Brexit be taken off the table, and came amid deep Cabinet splits about the way forward.

In a sign of growing business frustration with the Government's handling of Brexit, Balfour Beatty chief executive Leo Quinn use the call to demand to know when Britain would see the return of a "normal, functioning Government".

He said: "What we are seeing from industry is decisions are being delayed, we are seeing strategies not being confirmed.

"Within the construction industry for example the future of HS2 is unclear, Heathrow confirmation that expansion plans will move forward - none of these are under our control. "

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