Planning for a no-deal Brexit would be triggered if MPs vote down Theresa May’s withdrawal plan, the prime minister has suggested.
Appearing before the Commons’ liaison committee, May was faced with a series of tough questions from senior MPs on her strategy to take the UK out of the EU.
Pressed on whether Britain could crash out with no deal – a scenario the Bank of England believes could see the pound crash and inflation explode – May said “practical steps” to prepare would be taken if parliament rejects her deal.
During the 90-minute grilling, the PM also batted away calls for a second referendum, claiming an extension to Article 50 would reopen talks with the EU, and denied the DUP would end their confidence-and-supply deal with the government if its MPs vote down her deal.
The PM also admitted that the political declaration – the text setting out a framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU – does not guarantee membership of the Schengen Information System II (SIS II) scheme or the European Criminal Records Information Statistics (ECRIS).
Both databases give the Home Office real-time access to a list of, among other things, people wanted for extradition and information on foreign criminals.
Could The UK Leave Without A Deal?
Asked by Labour MP Rachel Reeves to rule out no-deal, May said that the government would respond within two weeks if her deal was voted down.
She said: “If the House votes down that deal at that point then there will be some steps that will be necessary because obviously we have been doing some no-deal planning as a government.”
Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the health select committee, tried to get answers from the PM about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the supply of medicines – which has caused widespread concern among practitioners.
When asked by Wollaston if she accepted not everybody would be able to access medical supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit, May appeared to disagree.
“The point of the work the Department of Health Social Care is doing is to ensure that those medicines and devices are available in all circumstances,” she said.
May Defends Gloomy Treasury Analysis
Reeves, who chairs the business, energy and industrial strategy committee, went on to challenge May’s claim during PMQs on Wednesday that the government’s own analysis did not show that the UK would be poorer.
The cross-government document in fact showed that there would be a hit of up to 3.9% to GDP over the course of 15 years.
“What the analysis shows is that there will be an impact on the rate of growth, all things being equal,” said May.
She added there “will be many variables” that impact the UK economy post-Brexit.
Reeves pointed out, however, that the analysis factored in potential future trade deals with countries outside the EU and concluded they would add a maximum of 0.2% to GDP.
May defended analyses by the Treasury and the Bank of England on her Brexit deal from leading Eurosceptic Bernard Jenkin, who called them “rubbish”.
In response to Jenkin wryly asking how “accurate” Treasury forecasts were in May 2016 – when it was claimed there would be a “collapse in growth and jobs” in the result of a Brexit vote – May replied: “Well, I think we’ve seen from what has happened that the reaction was rather different to those forecasts.”
She said Wednesday’s findings were “analysis”, not “forecasts”, but Jenkin said they do not take into account the decisions of the government, adding: “So, basically, they’re rubbish aren’t they?”
The PM hit back: “I think there is a difference in opinion about the benefits of forecasts and analysis, and so forth.”
Extending A50 Would ‘Reopen Deal’
May went on to say the Commons must pass the withdrawal agreement, which sets out a transition period to ensure an orderly Brexit.
Wollaston went on to ask the PM if she would consider backing a so-called People’s Vote.
May said: “There is a paradox here. If you extend Article 50 actually you are then in the business of renegotiating the deal.
“This is the point. The deal is the deal at this point in time. Look at the deal.”
She went on: “What is clear is that any extension to Article 50 – anything like that, reopens the negotiations – reopens the deal. At that point, frankly, the deal can go in any direction.
“We would simply find ourselves in a period of more uncertainty, more division in this country.
“Now is the time for this country to come back together and to look at our future outside the European Union.”
Neither Side Thinks Backstop ‘Good Place To Be’
Brexiteer Tory MP Andrew Murrison, chair of the Northern Ireland affairs committee, challenged May on the controversial Northern Irish backstop clause in the withdrawal agreement.
He compared it to a “post-war pre-fab” and claimed the UK could be stuck in it permanently.
“It’s sold as temporary, it’s built to last, and it’s likely to outlive us all,” he said.
The PM admitted the UK could not unilaterally pull out of the backstop, but dismissed Murrison’s comments and insisted the measure was temporary.
She added: “Neither side thinks the backstop is a good place to be.”
DUP Agreement ‘Remains In Place’
Theresa May has rejected the suggestion passing her Brexit plan in parliament without the support of the DUP will lead to the end of her partnership with the Northern Irish party.
Its leader, Arlene Foster, reiterated on Thursday that the party’s 10 MPs would not back the PM’s withdrawal agreement, saying it would create a “huge democratic deficit” in the province.
Speaking to the Commons Liaison Committee, the PM said: “Actually, the DUP have themselves said that the confidence-and-supply agreement remains in place.”
Questions Over Security Deal
Asked by Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs committee, whether the UK would retain access to the vital SIS II and ECRIS database, May replied: “We don’t have the SIS II database and the ECRIS database specifically identified in the political declaration.”
May went on to say that, while they may not be mentioned in the political declaration, the government plans to negotiate access.