EU referendum and Brexit
Davis: MPs must choose between May’s deal and crashing out of EU
Brexit secretary says final Commons vote on leaving EU will be choice between deal and ‘hard Brexit’, with no renegotiation
Parliament’s final vote on the UK’s departure from the EU will force MPs to choose between the deal brokered by Theresa May and crashing out of the bloc on to World Trade Organisation terms in a so-called “hard Brexit”, David Davis has suggested.
Speaking just days before the government is expected to trigger the formal process for leaving the EU, the Brexit secretary said officials were actively preparing contingency plans in case Britain pulled out without a deal.
Davis also insisted the government expected to see amendments added to the article 50 bill in the House of Lords removed when it returned to MPs this week. The changes sought to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK and give parliament a more meaningful final vote.
The bill triggering article 50, which formally sets in train the two-year Brexit process, was “a simple bill which is designed to do nothing more than put the result of the referendum into law”, Davis told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
Davis was asked about a report published on Sunday by the Commons foreign affairs committee, which warned there was a real possibility the Brexit talks could end with no deal. This would be “a very destructive outcome leading to mutually assured damage for the EU and the UK”, the MPs said.
Davis said officials had been carefully planning for the contingency of no deal being agreed in time, and that he had briefed the cabinet in recent weeks to stress the importance of such measures.
“Understand, it’s a contingency plan – the aim is to get a good outcome,” he said. “And we are confident we’ll get a good outcome. And one of the reasons we don’t talk about the contingency plan too much is we don’t want people to think, oh, this is what we’re trying to do.”
Of the talks, Davis said: “The feedback we get is, look, it’s going to be tough, let’s make no bones about this. There will be tough points in this negotiation. But it’s in absolutely everybody’s interests that we get a good outcome – ours and theirs.”
Asked about the final Commons vote on a deal, Davis said a rejection would not mean ministers seeking to renegotiate with the EU. It would, he said, see the UK move to “what is called the most favoured nation status deal with the World Trade Organisation”.
No other sort of vote was possible, he argued: “What we can’t have is either house of parliament reversing the decision of the British people. They haven’t got a veto. People talk about a meaningful vote – what does it mean otherwise?”
Speaking on Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Davis’s Labour shadow, Keir Starmer, said he expected the government to trigger article 50 on Wednesday or Thursday this week, once the article 50 bill had been passed.
Starmer said Labour would fight to keep the Lords amendments, saying a final vote on a Brexit deal was vital, with a shift to WTO trade rules being “a disaster” for the country.
“You absolutely have to have a vote in parliament before this could happen,” he said.
Speaking on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, dismissed the warnings of the report from the foreign affairs committee.
“It think that’s excessively pessimistic of that otherwise distinguished committee,” he said. “I think we have got every prospect of doing a very good deal between now and the end of the negotiating period in 2019.”
Johnson argued that if the UK left without a deal “we would be perfectly OK”, saying the economy was in good shape for such an outcome.
“I don’t think that the consequences of no deal are by any means as apocalyptic as some people like to pretend, and actually what we have seen in the budget from Philip Hammond last week are preparations for Britain over the next few years,” he said.
However, Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, took a different view when asked about the idea of a no-deal Brexit on Ridge’s show.
“Of course it would be bad. But it would not just be bad for the UK, it’s bad for Europe as a whole,” he argued.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, warned ministers against such a possibility.
“What is absolutely right is the concern among businesses about no deal is very high,” she told the Peston show. “It would be a recipe for chaos on a number of fronts. It would be a very bad thing for business to crash out into no deal.”
One leading Conservative rebel on Brexit said she was less worried about MPs’ vote on a final deal than about the idea of what parliamentary scrutiny would take place if there was no agreement.
Anna Soubry said that if Davis would not guarantee a meaningful Commons say on the future if no deal was reached, she would consider rebelling to keep in place the Lords amendment on the vote issue.
“I want a commitment from him that in the event of no deal it will come into parliament and parliament will determine what happens next,” Soubry told BBC1’s Sunday Politics.
“It could be that in the event of no deal, the best thing is for us to jump off the cliff into WTO tariffs – I find it unlikely, but that might be the reality.”
Soubry added: “The question people have to ask is: why won’t the government give that commitment? And my fear is that what this is really about is us deliberately – not the prime minister, but others – ensuring that we have no deal.”