An increasing number of Tory MPs and voters are coming round to the idea of backing a no-deal Brexit, several party sources have told HuffPost UK, in a shift which could have serious implications if Theresa May’s deal is blocked.
With the prime minister struggling to wring concessions from a reluctant EU on her Brexit deal, MPs who oppose it have seen little over Christmas to win them over to backing the deal.
Several senior Tories told HuffPost UK that as the reality of a no-deal Brexit is discussed more widely, more MPs are beginning to think of it as a viable option.
The shift comes despite the government’s own analysis suggesting leaving without an agreement could deliver a 9.3% hit to Britain’s economy over 15 years.
While the majority of MPs remain vehemently opposed to no-deal, it remains the default position if they do not back something else, such as the agreement on the table, a second referendum, or a revoking of Article 50 before exit day on March 29.
The numbers in favour of the other options could decline if more Tories favour no-deal.
One senior Tory who voted Remain said increasing numbers are backing the “no deal and no money” plan, which would see Britain withhold its £39bn “divorce” bill to soften the crash landing, although it remains unclear whether the government would renege on its legal obligation to settle its accounts with Brussels and risk the country’s global reputation.
“I voted Remain but I would rather we were ‘all in’ or ‘all out’.”
Senior Remain and Leave-backing MPs also said they detected growing support in their constituencies for a no-deal exit with Britain reverting to World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms for business with the EU and its trade partners.
One Remain-voting ex-minister said: “When I go to constituency events and say I voted Remain but I would rather we were ‘all in’ or ‘all out’, everyone nods their heads and see it as entirely reasonable.
“Everyone can see this agreement is a disaster.
“Whilst I think it was right to vote the way I did, actually in the end we have got to say that faced with the only option that we have, which is the deal or WTO and lots of smaller deals, would we rather have a clean Brexit?”
A senior Brexiteer said suggestions that MPs would go home over Christmas and start to come round to May’s deal for fear of no-deal had been proven incorrect. “I don’t think anything has changed,” they said.
“If anything I suspect people have gone back to their constituencies and met people from outside the Westminster bubble.
“And my honest assessment is that if the dial has moved at all the increasing chat about a WTO Brexit has moved views towards that as opposed to the long and uncertain exit under the withdrawal agreement.”
Others said the government’s publication of technical notices on a no-deal Brexit may have made people soften to the idea as they are increasingly confident the country will be prepared.
Asked if more MPs are considering no-deal, a Leave-backing former cabinet minister said: “To a certain degree but people aren’t going round and saying no deal is going to be a cakewalk.
“But when people are seeing the technical notices they are asking, how much will this actually impact people’s lives?
“We won’t be able to get certain foods like bananas or tomatoes but it’s not like we won’t be able to eat. And we’ll be leaving at a time when British produce is beginning to come into season so it’s the best possible time to leave with no deal.”
Another senior backbencher added: “I’m not surprised as more people look at it (WTO terms) and more people see that it is what most of the world have got and we are seeing more intensive preparations coming to light.”
On Tuesday, MPs will debate a cross-party amendment to the finance bill which would prevent the government from changing taxes in the event of a no-deal scenario without parliament’s explicit consent.
A serving Tory minister said he would “probably agree” that more of his colleagues are beginning to consider no deal as an option, but cautioned: “It’s whether MPs as a whole would ever allow that to happen.”
Senior Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, who backs a second referendum, warned no-deal could split the party.
“No deal doesn’t have majority support in parliament,” she said. “If it became the main government policy objective for Brexit then I and many colleagues would resign the party whip.”
Former immigration minister Robert Goodwill, who is loyal to the PM, also dismissed suggestions more MPs were backing no deal, saying the idea was “only from the headbangers”.
Referring to May’s successful defence of her Tory leadership following a coup attempt last month, he added: “There is a massive majority against no deal in the Commons. The Leavers see a 48-52 vote as a win and expect the 48% to comply but ignore the 200-116 confidence vote (in May) and continue to resist the deal.”
Meanwhile, May was warned by a former cabinet minister that anything short of a clear legal commitment from the EU that the so-called Irish border backstop will be temporary is unlikely to move the dial enough to get the deal passed.
They estimate the “fig leaf” reassurances from Brussels that appear more likely could win over between 10 and 25 Tory rebels.
But with a “hardcore” of 15-25 MPs who have quit as ministers or government aides alongside a rump of hard Brexiteers, there are still likely to be at least 35 Tory MPs voting against the deal.
With the DUP’s 10 MPs making clear that simple reassurances will not be enough to win them over either, the prospects for May’s deal look bleak.