Business Secretary Greg Clark has warned the deadline to agree a Brexit deal is in just nine days’ time.
The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29. But speaking to MPs on Wednesday, Clark said British industry needed certainty much sooner.
“We should not regard March 29 or March 28 as the time that we should be prepared to take to conclude a deal,” he said.
“People often say these things at the last minute. The last minute for important exporters is fast approaching over the next few days and weeks.”
Clark told the Commons business committee that exporters planning to ship goods to Japan would need six weeks’ notice before exit day to make decisions.
This would mean a deal, or a decision to delay Brexit, would need to be taken by February 15.
Theresa May is due to report back to the Commons on her attempts to secure a revised Brexit deal on February 13 – with MPs due to vote on the next steps the following day.
The business secretary has repeatedly warned that a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for British companies.
But he dismissed the idea of delaying Brexit to give MPs more time to agree a way forward.
“I think we should have a deal. How do you rule out leaving without a deal other than by having a deal or by revoking Article 50?” he said.
“Pausing Article 50 would not cure the uncertainty, in fact it would extend the uncertainty.”
Clark also dropped a heavy hint he would quit the cabinet if a no-deal Brexit ever became the official policy of the government.
“There would be many people on all sides of the House that would regard that as unacceptable,” he told the committee.
The prime minister will travel to Brussels tomorrow in an attempts to secure changes to the Northern Ireland backstop.
The fallback proposal, which could keep the closely UK tied to EU rules, was the key reason Tory MPs voted down her initial deal.
It comes as European Council president Donald Tusk hit out at leading Brexiteers by declaring there would be a “a special place in hell” for those who promoted leaving the EU without any plan for how to deliver it safely.
Lib Dem leader Vince Cable said Clark’s warning exposed the “recklessness” of the government’s strategy of “gambling on an unlikely last-minute breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations”.
“UK companies exporting competitively to the rest of the world thanks to EU-negotiated free trade agreements are now facing a hit to their business long before March 29th, notwithstanding the uncertainty they have already faced. Businesses and workers are paying the price of no-deal already,” he said.
“This is yet another example of the damage Brexit will inflict on our economy. It is time the people were given the opportunity to avoid all this chaos through a People’s Vote, with the option to remain in the EU.”