POLITICS
09/08/2019 00:01 BST

Minister Says No-Deal Brexit Would Be A 'Disaster' Without Quick EU Trade Agreement

George Freeman tells HuffPost UK that trading on WTO terms would be "very damaging" in the long-run.

Britain will have to sign a trade agreement with the EU soon after a no-deal Brexit to avert an “absolute disaster” which could cost the Tories power for 20 years, one of Boris Johnson’s ministers has suggested.

George Freeman told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast that a so-called WTO (World Trade Organisation) Brexit, as advocated by some hardliners, would be “very damaging” if it became Britain’s long-term position.

Freeman also suggested Johnson could get a version of Theresa May’s withdrawal deal passed by MPs with “a tweak” to the Irish backstop.

The transport minister, who was appearing on the podcast as part of HuffPost UK’s partnership with the Big Tent Ideas festival, also said it would be a “huge mistake for the prime minister to prorogue - suspend - parliament during the titanic Brexit tussle expected this autumn.

Freeman suggested an election was likely if MPs signalled they would block no deal.

The minister said: “Being able to use the legitimate threat of no deal to get a good deal is a perfectly acceptable strategy.

“I do not agree with those very few hardliners who think that WTO long-term would be satisfactory.

“I don’t at all, I think it would be an absolute disaster and politically for my party would see us out of office for two decades I think.

“More importantly, I think it would be very damaging to the stability of this country.

“For me, what the prime minister has said he wants to do is get a sensible deal.

“Bear in mind we were very close to getting this deal through, a tweak to the backstop would do it.”

Freeman spoke after Johnson refused to say he would resign if MPs voted to bring down his government by passing a vote of no confidence.

According to reports Downing Street is considering plans for the PM to instead cling to power and call an election while forcing no deal through in the campaign period, a move which could spark a constitutional crisis.

Johnson has also refused to rule out proroguing parliament so MPs do not have the chance block no deal.

Freeman criticised the idea of suspending parliament but said an election in which the PM could seek a mandate for Brexit was likely if it looked like there was a Commons majority to stop no deal.

He said: “The idea of proroguing parliament, blocking parliament, would be a huge mistake.

“And I don’t think it’s the prime minister’s instincts, he’s a parliamentarian, he’s a Churchillian, he is a real democrat and I cannot for a moment think that’s what he’d want to do.

“I do think if he can’t get a negotiated improvement and if parliament signals it is going to block no deal, which he needs to be able to have as a sanction in order to get a deal, then it is quite likely we will end up by hook or by crook, one way or another, with an election.”