Labour has dramatically raised the stakes over Brexit by warning that Jeremy Corbyn and his MPs will vote down any attempt by the Government to quit the EU without a trade deal.
If a “no deal” Brexit looked likely, the Opposition would instead force Theresa May to keep talking to Brussels until an agreement was sorted, a senior party spokesman said.
The intervention raises the prospect of a Parliamentary showdown for the PM if her negotiations with the other 27 EU leaders break down ahead of the Brexit deadline of March 29, 2017.
With a working majority of just 13, May could face a landmark defeat as Tory ‘Remain’ rebels would join with Labour to reject any move to put the UK on World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs.
The move came as May caved to pressure from Brexiteers in her Cabinet to step up plans for a “no deal” outcome, revealing she had set aside £250m for Government departments to prepare for all possibilities.
In Prime Minister’s Questions, she also appeared to slap down Chancellor Philip Hammond, who had hours earlier warned that every pounds spent on the contingency plans was “a pound that we can’t spend on the NHS or social care or education or deficit reduction”.
When asked after PMQs if Labour would vote against a “no deal” outcome, a senior spokesman told HuffPost UK: “We would oppose that.
“If the Government comes back with that outcome, we will seek to push for continued negotiations to get the kind of deal that’s in the interests of the country.”
He added that Corbyn felt that falling out of the EU without any trade deal would be “the worst” option for the public, leaving the country at the mercy of Tory Brexiteers who want to turn the UK into a low-tax, low-regulation offshore nation.
The party would respect the EU referendum but would not give May a blank cheque to drive through a ‘cliff-edge Brexit’ that harmed jobs and growth.
Reports emerged of a row between Hammond and other ministers over ‘no deal’ plans at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, hours after Brussels chief Donald Tusk issued a stark warning that more progress was needed in Brexit talks.
Tusk said that if the talks continue at a slow pace without progress, “then - together with our UK friends - we will have to think about where we are heading”.
Brexit Secretary David Davis tried to inject fresh momentum in the negotiations this week but Brussels sources said little new had been offered by the UK.
Davis and counterpart Michel Barnier are due to give an update on their talks on Thursday. Barnier is said to want to move on to trade talks soon but is being held back by Germany’s insistence that London pay a big ‘divorce bill’ first.
Meanwhile, No.10 refused twice to say whether May’s words in the Commons were a contradiction of Hammond’s insistence that ‘no deal’ spending should be a last resort.
The Chancellor is becoming increasingly unpopular with pro-Brexit Tory MPs, with many seeing him as determined to water down or delay the UK’s exit from the EU.
Speaking on the BBC’s Daily Politics show this afternoon, Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin said he “was very pleased to see the Prime Minister making absolutely clear” that departments would have the money they needed to prepare for ‘no deal’.
Asked by Andrew Neil if the Prime Minister had put Hammond in his place, Jenkin said: “She’s cleared up some of the ambiguity that the Chancellor left, yes, how can I put it more diplomatically than that?”