Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Brexit: MPs have power to stop no-deal, admits Jeremy Hunt

Foreign secretary warns 'Brexit paralysis ultimately could lead to no Brexit'

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Friday 11 January 2019 11:10 GMT
MPs have power to stop no-deal Brexit, says Jeremy Hunt

Parliament has the power to block a no-deal Brexit, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has admitted.

The cabinet minister said it was "highly unlikely" that MPs would not find a way to thwart a disorderly exit from the European Union if they wanted to, after Theresa May suffered a string of Commons defeats this week.

In a dramatic intervention, Mr Hunt also warned that voting down Ms May's deal next week could actually prevent Brexit, saying it would bring in "Brexit paralysis" with the "possibility in sight" of the UK remaining in the EU.

It comes as MPs geared up for the third day of Commons debate ahead of the critical vote on Ms May's Brexit deal next Tuesday, which the government is widely expected to lose.

Mr Hunt admitted the parliamentary arithmetic was "challenging" for the vote and took aim at John Bercow for allowing a parliamentary bid to speed up the Brexit process, saying the Speaker was "willing to frustrate the government at every opportunity".

The prime minister has been scrambling to win support for her Brexit blueprint by reaching out to union leaders and Labour MPs in a last-ditch attempt to get it over the line.

Speaking about no-deal, Mr Hunt said: "We've seen from this week that parliament has the ability to assert itself and to shape outcomes. I think after this week the idea that parliament is going to do nothing at all is highly unlikely."

He said thwarting Brexit would be "potentially very damaging" and warned that it was now a choice between Ms May's deal and no Brexit. This marks a shift in tone, as the prime minister has repeatedly set out a choice between her deal and no deal.

"If this deal is rejected, ultimately what we may end up with is not a different type of Brexit but Brexit paralysis," he told the Today programme

"And Brexit paralysis ultimately could lead to no Brexit.

"I'm saying this would be an incredibly damaging breach of trust and it would also be very bad for Britain's reputation abroad, having decided to leave the EU, if we in the end for whatever reasons found that we weren't able to do it."

Downing Street challenged the interpretation of Mr Hunt's words soon after, saying that the minister had commented only that parliament would "try very hard" to rule out a no deal, which was not the same as stopping it.

The prime minister's spokeswoman said: "All I can do is point out the facts and that is if the deal is not voted for, the default position is that the UK will leave without one."

Pro-EU MPs seized on Mr Hunt comments as a boost to their cause, claiming he had effectively admitted the prime minister's no-deal warnings were a "false threat".

Labour's David Lammy, who supports the People’s Vote campaign, said: “Jeremy Hunt has confirmed publicly what more and more of his colleagues are saying in private - that if MPs can’t agree on Theresa May’s deal next week, the only way forward is to give the public the final say on Brexit through a People’s Vote.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

“The idea that if MPs vote down the deal, we head to no deal has always been a false threat and the Foreign Secretary has now effectively admitted it.

“There is no Brexit deal that fulfils all the promises made in the last referendum - or one as good as the deal we’ve already got inside the EU. Instead of embarking on another fruitless effort of renegotiation, it is time to hand this crucial decision back to the people.”

It comes as work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd became the latest cabinet minister to refuse to rule out resigning from the cabinet in the event of a no deal Brexit, echoing the business secretary Greg Clark.

During an interview with the Today programme, Ms Rudd three times declined to say whether she would remain a member of the government if it opted for a chaotic exit.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in