No-deal Brexit 'cannot be allowed to happen', cross-party team of MPs warn

Posted On: 
28th January 2019

A no-deal Brexit "cannot be allowed to happen", an influential cross-party committee of MPs has warned ahead of this week's crucial Commons vote on alternatives to Theresa May's deal.

In a hard-hitting new report, the Exiting the European Union Committee says MPs "must" be given the chance to vote on extending Article 50, delaying the UK's exit from the bloc to stave off leaving without an agreement.

And they tear into suggestions from some Cabinet ministers that Britain could execute a "managed no-deal" if MPs fail to rally behind the Prime Minister's deal or a fresh plan.

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The Commons will on Tuesday be asked to cast its verdict on a string of alternatives to Theresa May's Brexit deal - including asking for an Article 50 extension - after her agreement was roundly rejected in an historic Commons vote earlier this month.

Ahead of Tuesday's showdown, the Committee said a "lack of transparency and a lack of time" had undermined Whitehall's ability to get ready for a no-deal exit, and said it was "deeply concerned" about the readiness of business for Britain failing to sign off on an EU deal.

They warned: "Brexit was always going to lead to change for business with a range of new challenges but also opportunities.

"However, businesses have had no certainty about what to prepare for and, in the event of a no-deal exit would face an abrupt change in trading circumstances which would represent a cliff edge for many—an abrupt change which concerned our predecessor Committee two years ago for which, it is clear, many businesses have not prepared."

The group of MPs said a no-deal exit, which is likely to see the UK face tariffs on goods traded with European countries for the first time in decades, could have a "very significant impact" on Britain's ability to compete around the world, with agriculture particularly hard hit.

They also raise concern that the Government's planning for a no-deal has relied on "assumptions" about how the EU will respond which are at odds with what businesses believe will happen.

"There appears to be no majority in the House of Commons in favour of a no deal exit, although that remains the default outcome if the House of Commons is unable to approve the deal that has been reached or pass the legislation required to implement it in domestic law," the committee said.

"While the EU might agree to side deals to mitigate the worst of the disruption of a no deal outcome, this cannot be guaranteed, and we are concerned by the extent to which assumptions of an ongoing cooperative relationship underpin the Government’s no deal planning. Since these assumptions cannot be guaranteed, a 'managed no deal' cannot constitute the policy of any responsible government."

'MPs MUST VOTE ON ARTICLE 50'

The Committee - which is led by Labour MP Hilary Benn - said it was "confident" the European Union would agree to extending Article 50 if Britain chose to ask for more time, a move that is being proposed by Labour's Yvette Cooper in an amendment to be voted on this week.

Mr Benn said: "Having taken a wide range of evidence on the implications of a no deal Brexit, the committee is clear that this cannot be allowed to happen.

"It would disrupt supply chains, create costs and uncertainty for businesses, threaten the reintroduction of tariffs and new non-tariff barriers which would affect competitiveness and many small businesses are not ready because they don’t know what to plan for.  It would also raise questions in the minds of EU citizens here and British citizens living in other EU countries about their future rights and status and about how to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland. 

"The suggestion that the UK might opt for a no deal outcome but assume that the EU will continue to act in a co-operative manner to avoid disruption, cannot seriously constitute the policy of any responsible Government.

"MPs must be able to vote on extending Article 50 if Parliament cannot reach agreement on a way forward before 29 March."

However, one member of the committee - Brexiteer Tory Craig Mackinlay, moved quickly to distance himself from the new report’s conclusions.

Writing for BrexitCentral, he accused a “majority” of its members of “concurrently seeking to overturn the referendum result”, adding: “Is it worth a read? I wouldn’t bother.”

The MP argued that the report "advances both fear for the future and loathing of the June 2016 referendum result in equal measure and attempts to be all things to all people opposed in their various ways to the referendum result."

The fresh call for MPs to be given a vote on extending Article 50 - which set the two-year Brexit clock ticking in 2017 - came after Labour frontbencher Angela Rayner warned that the British public "don't want" a fresh delay to the UK's departure.

But, in the latest sign Labour could swing behind the Cooper amendment, she told Sky News: "Labour will do whatever it takes to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

"So if that's the only option that we have then it's something we will seriously consider."

Confused by all the Brexit amendments flying around ahead of this week's vote? PoliticsHome has a fully-updated plain-English guide to the alternatives MPs are hoping to consider