Britain will quit the EU ‘without a deal’ if Parliament decides to vote down Theresa May’s final proposals, a Brexit minister has warned.
Lord Callanan suggested that the UK would fall back on basic World Trade Organisation rules if the eventual Brexit deal was rejected by MPs or peers.
Speaking in the House of Lords, his remarks are the clearest yet from any minister of the consequences of losing the “meaningful vote” promised to Tory rebels and Labour last year.
Labour peers said they amounted to a “blackmail” threat that anyone who dared voted against the deal would trigger a “catastrophic” outcome with basic tariffs.
Crossbencher and former judge Baroness Butler-Sloss had asked Callanan what would happen if Parliament decided it didn’t like the final deal the Prime Minister produced after her talks with Brussels.
“If there is a vote in either House, particularly the House of Commons, which rejects whatever the Government put forward, what will the Government do?” she asked.
Callanan replied: “In such circumstances—first, we hope that Parliament will not reject it and we will negotiate for the best possible outcome—that would be an instruction to move ahead without a deal.”
His answer prompted a collective ‘Ah!’ from peers.
Until now ministers have fought shy of being explicit about the hypothetical situation of Parliament voting down any Government plans in a ‘meaningful vote’.
Ministers have preferred to stress that the EU referendum result will not be reversed by any Commons or Lords vote and that the UK will definitely be leaving after the two-year Article 50 process ends next year.
In November 2017, Brexit Secretary David Davis was asked by Owen Paterson for reassurance that the UK would leave the EU on 29 March 2019 even if Parliament rejected the final deal in the debate on the proposed bill.
Davis then replied: “Yes.”
Several ministers and Tory MPs have described the “meaningful vote” as a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer on a deal.
But reaction from Labour peers to Callanan’s remarks was swift.
Davis has said that even if the Commons might want May to return to Brussels to renegotiate again her deal, there is no guarantee that the EU would reopen the negotiation.
Earlier this month, he was quizzed by MPs on the issue. Labour’s Geraint Davies asked him: “If parliament in its meaningful vote votes down the deal will we go back to negotiations or will we stay in the EU?”
Initially Davis refused to answer the question, saying: “With respect that’s been dealt with at length at the despatch box and made very plain what the meaningful vote means.”
He then added: “I don’t view the meaningful vote as overruling the referendum. We are coming out in all circumstances.”
When asked about Callanan’s remarks on Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman replied: “That has always been the position.”
Callanan, a strongly Eurosceptic Tory MEP before he became a member of the Lords, was forced to apologise to peers last November when he claimed the Supreme Court had ruled that Article 50 was irreversible.
In a statement to the Lords he said: “The Supreme Court did not opine on the revocability of Article 50. It was and remains the government’s policy that our notification of Article 50 will not be withdrawn. I recognise my comments have caused confusion and I apologise to the House”