Brexit: Eurosceptic ministers hit back in cabinet row over no-deal departure from EU

Three ministers wrote an open letter last week demanding Brexit be delayed

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Sunday 24 February 2019 13:21
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Michael Gove says extending Article 50 a mistake

The cabinet row over a no-deal Brexit has reignited after Leave-supporting ministers hit back against colleagues who are trying to exclude the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

Environment secretary Michael Gove warned the three members of the cabinet who wrote an open letter demanding Brexit be delayed that they were making a “mistake”.

Fellow Brexiteer Liam Fox argued that backing a plan in parliament to achieve a delay would “fundamentally weaken our position” in Brexit negotiations, while Andrea Leadsom wrote that moves to delay or prevent Brexit were going against “democracy”.

The pushback came after work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, justice secretary David Gauke and business secretary Greg Clark said Brexit should be delayed if parliament does not approve a deal in the coming days.

It comes as Theresa May flies to Sharm el-Sheikh, where she will hold bilateral meetings with key European leaders in a bid to try and secure changes to the Brexit deal in a bid to make it more palatable to her party.

If she does not put a new deal before the house on Wednesday, MPs will vote on alternative plans for Brexit, including one which could see it delayed, being put forward by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and ex-Tory minister Oliver Letwin.

Speaking on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Gove said: “The motion that’s been put before us, the motion that Yvette Cooper has drafted and is backed by people like Oliver Letwin, is a mistake and I would urge colleagues not to vote for it.

“It’s not just about a potential extension of Article 50, it’s about taking power away from the government and who knows where we might end up. We might end up with a second referendum which would do real damage to our politics.

“But more than that, all the Yvette Cooper amendment does, as well as taking power in this way, is to seek to extend, not to advance our effective movement towards a deal – it is not an answer to this situation we face, which is, ‘how can the House of Commons unite behind a deal?’”

International trade secretary Mr Fox warned of the “great” consequences of failing to deliver Brexit, on a weekend in which local Tory associations passed motions demanding no deal remain an option.

He said: “Taking no deal off the table would be to remove the single strongest card that we have in our negotiation with the EU itself and would therefore fundamentally weaken our position.

“While I do not want to see a no-deal scenario, the risk of failing to deliver on Brexit itself it too great to be contemplated.”

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom wrote in The Sun on Sunday making the case for the government’s current path, concealing a message for Remain-backing cabinet ministers in saying: “Calls for an extension, a delay or even a second referendum are persistent – but so too is my determination, and the determination of this government, to deliver on the will of the first one.

Philip Hammond says MPs could vote on revised Brexit deal next week

“Democracy is not about trying again until you get the result you want.”

Ms Rudd, Mr Gauke and Mr Clark said earlier in the week that they would be prepared to defy the government in order to vote for a delay.

They wrote in the Daily Mail: “It is time MPs recognised the need to get a deal, accepted that this is the only deal on offer, and supported it.”

But they also warned Brexiteers in the backbench European Research Group that parliament would block the UK leaving without a deal, stating that if there is one, “they will have no one to blame but themselves”.

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