Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned voting down Theresa May’s Brexit deal would lead to “paralysis” in parliament that ushers in either a no-deal or remain scenario.
Speaking on the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, he also said any attempt by politicians to frustrate Brexit would damage the UK’s international reputation.
It came as the third day of debate was to due open on the draft deal the prime minister has struck with Brussels.
MPs are due to vote on her withdrawal agreement on Tuesday night, but it is widely anticipated that it will be defeated, with backbench Brexiteers and the DUP vehemently opposed to both the Northern Irish backstop clause and the £39bn divorce bill.
Hinting the March 29 Article 50 deadline could be extended, Hunt said: “If this deal is rejected, ultimately what we may end up with is not a different type of Brexit but Brexit paralysis.
“And Brexit paralysis ultimately could lead to no Brexit.
“I’m saying this would be (an) incredibly damaging breach of trust and it would also be very bad for Britain’s reputation abroad, having decided to leave the EU, if we in the end for whatever reasons found we weren’t able to do it.”
The PM has to come back to parliament with an alternative proposal by Monday at the latest after the vote.
She may present parliament with a number of options, including renegotiating the deal with the EU, a second referendum, no-deal and extending the March 29 Article 50 deadline.
Hunt warned: “If we were, as a political class, not to deliver Brexit, that would be a fundamental breach of trust between the people and the politicians.
“I think that is something that we would regret for many, many generations.”
Hunt acknowledged that May’s deal was “not perfect” but insisted it “broadly delivers Brexit”.
He added that, after months of MPs seeking their “number one favourite outcome”, it was time for them to come together behind a deal which would ensure that Brexit happens.
Warning there may well be no consensus in parliament behind any outcome, Hunt said: “What is important is for MPs on all sides, Brexiters and Remainers, whatever our disagreements, to say ‘we are democrats and the most important thing now is to make sure that we really do deliver Brexit’.”
Hunt also waded in on the row over Commons speaker John Bercow, who had drawn the ire of Tory MPs after choosing an amendment which effectively speeds up the government’s Brexit timetable.
The minister said Bercow had shown that he was “willing to frustrate the government at every opportunity”, and it was not possible for the minority Tory administration to control what happened in parliament.
“I think it’s now looking much less likely that parliament would allow a no-deal outcome anyway,” he said. “We have seen from this week that parliament has the ability to assert itself and to shape outcomes.
“I think parliament is very committed to try to stop no-deal, but I think we have to recognise that there is a deal on the table, it does broadly deliver the Brexit people voted for, and if we don’t find a way to get this through, we are taking some very big risks.
“Brexit paralysis potentially leading to no Brexit is something I think would be incredibly damaging for the long-term future of this country.”