THE UK will be leaving the EU with no deal on March 29th if there are not sufficient changes to the backstop and any amendments passed to rule out no deal are trumped by the fact that it is legislated that the UK will leave, Stephen Barclay, Tory Secretary for Exiting the EU confirmed yesterday, re-opening the debate on the EU Withdrawal Motion.
He was responding to a question from Tory MP for Basildon and Billericay, John Barron, who asked: ‘Can the government just confirm for absolute clarity, that should we not be able to secure a good deal, probably courtesy of intransigence by the EU, then we will not only be leaving on the 29th March, but we will be leaving on no-deal WTO terms.’
Barclay responded: ‘He is correct. We do, as parliament, need to hold our nerve and we do need to send a clear signal to those in the European Union with whom we are discussing these issues, who share our desire to have a deal, to deliver on our shared values, to respect the fact that we are trading partners and wish to get on to the Future Economic Partnership and work together and that is the state of affairs.’
John Barron then intervened again: ‘I think we all agree on the importance of keeping our nerves and actually by keeping no deal on the table it makes a good deal more likely.
‘But can he answer my specific question and that is that if we don’t achieve a good deal on the 29th of March, we won’t just be leaving the EU, we will be leaving on no deal terms?’
Barclay replied: ‘I am very happy to confirm that because that is what the legislation says.
‘The only way to avoid no deal, and this is a point that the Prime Minister and I have repeatedly said, but it is the point that is backed up in legislation.
‘The only way to avoid no deal is either to secure a deal on the terms that the Prime Minister has set out, with the mandate that the House has given in response to negotiations, or the only alternative otherwise would be to revoke.’
Tory Ken Clarke then interjected: ‘What he has given seems to me to be the most stark expression that I have heard of the government’s position so far.
‘He says we are bound by the legislation, when we passed Article 50.’ He then put forward his preferred option of revoking Article 50, therefore stopping Brexit.
Barclay responded that revoking Article 50 does not take no deal off the table it simply ‘prolongs uncertainty’.
SNP MP Angus MacNeil said: ‘Why don’t we forget this silly game with one letter from the Prime Minister to the European Union and revoke this nonsense.’
DUP leader Nigel Dodds then interjected: ‘Isn’t it the case that if you take no deal off the table, that is the surest way of ensuring the other side dig in on their current position, that is just a fact of life. So those who call for no deal to be taken off the table are actually playing into the hands of the possibility of no deal.’
Conservative former cabinet minister Justine Greening then said that the government was ignoring a previous vote, supported by a majority of MPs, to reject a no-deal Brexit, while respecting the result of another vote calling for changes to the controversial ‘backstop’ element of Theresa May’s deal.
Barclay insisted: ‘I have set out firstly the position as set out by cabinet, secondly what is the legislative position, thirdly what is the interplay in terms of the motion before the House at this meeting.
‘I absolutely respect the honourable lady in how she voted in that division but the point is it does not change the stated position of the government.’
Labour’s shadow secretary for exiting the EU Keir Starmer then moved Amendment A.
The Amendment A seeks to ‘stop the government from running down the clock’ by giving it a deadline: pass a deal by February 26th, or hold another meaningful vote. Or ‘let parliament take control of the process’.
Starmer said: ‘It is obvious what the Prime Minister is up to: She is pretending to make progress whilst running down the clock.
‘A non-update every other week, to buy another two weeks of process, inching ever closer to the 29th of March deadline in 43 days time.’