17/12/2018 13:50 GMT

'Managed No Deal' Brexit Unlikely To Be Agreed By The EU, No10 Suggests

Some cabinet ministers are backing plan to strike side deals.

A “managed no deal” Brexit said to be favoured by some cabinet ministers is unlikely to be agreed by the EU, Downing Street has suggested.

Cabinet Brexiteers such as Penny Mordaunt as well as former remainers like Gavin Williamson and Jeremy Hunt are reportedly set to push for the option to be considered as a ‘plan B’ if Theresa May’s withdrawal deal is rejected by MPs.

But the prime minister’s official spokesman insisted the sort of side deals required to make it a reality are unlikely to be agreed by the EU until after the UK has left.

According to reports, proposals circulating for a managed no deal Brexit could include a two year transition period followed by a hard exit with technology maintaining trade as freely as possible with the EU

But given a transition period is only on the table as part of the overall Brexit deal agreed by May with Brussels, a more likely option would appear to be striking side deals with EU countries in areas like aviation and pharmaceuticals to minimise chaos after exit day on March 29.

Asked whether such mini-deals would be possible, May’s spokesman told reporters on Monday: “I think what the EU have been clear on is that they aren’t holding those discussions with the UK until after it has left the EU.” 

Insiders also pointed to the fact that Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, was rebuked in September by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier for writing to member states asking for side deals on transport in the event of no deal.

Getty Images
Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, was rebuked by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier for trying to strike side deals to manage the chaos of a no deal exit

Nevertheless, ministers are said to be ready to push for the option at what is likely to be a heated cabinet meeting on Tuesday as thoughts turn to potential backup plans if May’s deal is rejected by the Commons.

Remainers such as Greg Clark and Amber Rudd, as well as leaver Liam Fox, have all come out in favour of the idea of so-called “indicative votes” in the Commons on the different Brexit options to plot a course through.

Backers of May’s deal believe this could expose the lack of a majority for alternative and potentially help the agreement eventually pass the Commons, although others have suggested it could pave the way for a second referendum or a softer Brexit with the UK remaining in the single market like Norway.

The PM is understood to be sceptical about the idea of indicative votes and rejected it in a conference call with cabinet ministers last week.

Her official spokesman said there are “no plans” for such an arrangement but refused to rule it out definitely.

On Monday afternoon in a Commons statement, May will also condemn calls for a second referendum, insisting it would do “irreparable damage” to the integrity of British politics. 

The PM’s official spokesman insisted cabinet collective responsibility had not broken down, insisting ministers have all shown their commitment to getting May’s deal through the Commons.

He also said “discussions” between UK and EU officials “at all levels” were ongoing as part of efforts to get extra reassurances over the Irish backstop to win support for the agreement from MPs, although the European Commission insisted “no further meetings” are foreseen. 

It came as a document said to have been carried by May’s de facto chief Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins was photographed as the official walked past Downing Street.

The paper appeared to outline the UK’s push for the backstop to last for the “shortest possible period” as a way of reassuring the DUP and Brexiteers who fear the country could become trapped in the arrangement. 

Nevertheless, the delay in getting a Brexit deal approved by the Commons will see the Government ramp up its no deal preparations, with Chancellor Philip Hammond soon to allocate an extra £2bn for departments “shortly”, according to May’s spokesman.

“The closer we get to March 29 more decisions will have to be taken in terms of ensuring we are prepared for a no deal scenario,” he added.