A Cabinet minister today hinted that “many” members of the Government could resign if the “fantastical mythical creature” of a no-deal Brexit is made government policy.
In an interview with the Standard, Justice Secretary David Gauke rounded on senior Conservatives for “not facing up to reality” by claiming that leaving the EU without a deal is viable.
He is the third Cabinet minister in a week to argue openly that MPs could stage an “indicative vote” on other options, such as a second referendum, if Theresa May’s deal is voted down in the Commons. Downing Street has rejected the idea.
Asked if he thought Cabinet members would resign if no deal became official policy, Mr Gauke told the Standard: “I think there are many Cabinet ministers who don’t think that that would be a responsible course of action.”
His comments came as three Tory MPs — Nick Boles, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston — said they would resign the party whip if a no-deal Brexit became policy.
Mr Boles said he would also “vote in any way necessary to stop it from happening”. The Justice Secretary, a loyalist who backs the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, said passing her deal was “the best way of taking no deal off the table”. He hit out at Brexiteers who claim a “managed no deal” could be achieved without inflicting catastrophic damage. The policy is reportedly being pushed by 11 Right-wingers in Cabinet, including Commons leader Andrea Leadsom and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt.
Pointing to the “clear” reality that the EU would not sign a deal that left out the Irish border backstop and a financial settlement, currently £39 billion, Mr Gauke said: “Anyone suggesting there is a deal that doesn’t involve those elements, I fear, is not facing up to the hard choices that are in front of us.
“Relying on some fantastical mythical creature of a deal that has all the aspects we would like and with none of the downsides that the EU will insist upon is not facing up to reality.”
Countdown to Brexit: 100 days until Britain leaves the EU
Urging MPs not to “pretend there are other deals out there”, he said they should use the Christmas break away from the Commons to “think long and hard” and then back Mrs May’s deal in the national interest.
Mr Gauke follows Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Education Secretary Damian Hinds in arguing that indicative votes may have to be staged to find a solution.
“At the moment MPs are too often acting as critics rather than participants and not taking responsibility,” he said. “Indicative votes might be a means by which we can, if you like, force MPs to take that responsibility and act in the interests of the country.”
He warned Brexiteers that a second referendum was gaining ground among opposition MPs. “My sense is the Labour benches are increasingly moving in that direction,” he said.
But he warned EU leaders hoping for a second referendum that it may not go the way they want. “There is a distinct risk that the vote would be in favour of Leave again,” he said. “By far the lowest risk, from the EU point of view, is to enable the PM to deliver her deal.”
A no deal, he said, would “potentially be devastating for our reputation for economic competence”.
“For those who believe, as I do, that the Conservatives are the party of competence, if we find ourselves leading the country in that direction we should not be under any illusion how damaging that would be to our reputation.
“That is deeply alarming in the context of a hard-Left, economically illiterate Labour Party which would inflict even greater harm to our country.”
Business leaders have pleaded with ministers to take no deal off the table. Jasmine Whitbread of London First said no deal would be “a hammer blow to the economy”.
The Prime Minister urged leaders from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland devolved administrations to “pull together” and back her deal with exactly 100 days until Brexit Day on March 29, 2019.
Yesterday Cabinet allocated £2 billion more for spending by Whitehall departments on Brexit preparations, including hundreds of Border Force officers.