Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal allows the UK to crash out of the EU with no deal in December 2020 if trade talks fail, a Tory Eurosceptic claims to have been told.
John Baron said he was given a “clear assurance” from ministers that the new deal the PM has struck with Brussels leaves the door open for the UK to break from the bloc and move to World Trade Organisation rules.
It comes ahead of a potential crunch vote on Saturday, with Johnson desperately trying to cobble together a majority for his withdrawal agreement.
He told the BBC: “I am doing my best to persuade colleagues, the so-called Spartans who voted three times against Theresa May’s deal, to look at this in a favourable light.
“Because provided we can get that clear assurance, and I have been given it so far by people like Michael Gove and Dominic Raab, and I’m hoping to get it from the prime minister tomorrow, that we will be leaving after the trade talks, if those trade talks fail up to December 2020, we will be leaving on no-deal terms, if we can get that assurance then we will be voting for the deal tomorrow.”
Number 10 has claimed that the PM would be seeking a trade deal when negotiations over the UK and EU’s future relationship open post-withdrawal, and called the reaction to Baron’s statement “nonsense”.
But Baron’s words have been seized on by Remainers, with shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer tweeting: “If anyone has any doubts about where Boris Johnson’s proposals take us, this lays bare that the end destination is a damaging right-wing project, which will rip apart our relationship with the EU and replace it with a US-style economy.”
Guto Bebb, a Tory MP who backs the People’s Vote campaign, said John Baron “let the cat out of the bag”.
“He admits that he and many of his fellow ideologues in the extremist Conservative faction of the ERG are supporting Boris Johnson’s Brexit proposals only because they see it as the fastest way to fulfil their no-deal fantasies,” he said.
“It is highly unlikely that any trade agreement between the UK and the EU can be reached in the time period set out in this withdrawal agreement, so they believe that getting Johnson’s proposals through parliament means crashing out onto no-deal terms by the end of 2020.”
A Number 10 source told HuffPost UK: “Those who have always wanted to cancel the referendum are looking for a fig leaf to justify voting against Brexit yet again. Tomorrow will be a defining opportunity for parliament – an opportunity to come together and get Brexit done.”
Saturday’s Commons vote on Johnson’s deal is on a knife-edge, and he is relying on some Labour backbenchers to defy Jeremy Corbyn’s orders and vote with the government.
But he could be forced to ask for a delay to Brexit even if he wins. The prime minister is engaged in last-minute talks to try and persuade MPs to vote for the revised agreement struck with the EU.
If the Commons votes down his deal on Saturday, then thanks to the Benn Act Johnson is under an obligation to write a letter to the EU asking for Article 50 to be extended until January 2020.
But former Tory MP Oliver Letwin has tabled an amendment to tomorrow’s crunch vote which would mean formal approval of the deal would be withheld until the legislation required to implement the exit deal was passed by the Commons. MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit fear a loophole in the Benn Act means the UK could still drop out of the EU without a deal.
If the Commons vote in favour of Johnson’s deal on Saturday then the requirement that he ask for an extension is lifted. But if the Withdrawal Act Bill is not passed by the exit date of October 31 then the UK could crash out on no-deal.