Senior UK ministers in dispute over ‘no deal’ Brexit

Home secretary says no deal ‘unthinkable’ while Brexit minister claims UK can walk away

  British  Brexit minister David Davis: “In a negotiation you always have to have the right to walk away – if you don’t, you get a terrible deal”, he told MPs in the House of Commons. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

British Brexit minister David Davis: “In a negotiation you always have to have the right to walk away – if you don’t, you get a terrible deal”, he told MPs in the House of Commons. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

 

Two of Theresa May’s most senior ministers have made sharply contradictory statements about a “no deal” Brexit, with home secretary Amber Rudd saying it was “unthinkable” hours after Brexit secretary David Davis told MPs it was still possible.

Ms Rudd was responding to a question at a House of Commons committee about the impact on security policy of leaving the EU without a deal.

“I think it is unthinkable that there would be no deal. It is so much in their interest as well as in ours; in their communities’, in their families’, in their tourists’ interests to have something in place. We will make sure there is something between them and us to maintain our security,” she said.

A few hours earlier, Mr Davis told MPs in the Commons chamber that, although he was confident that there would be a good Brexit deal, Britain could still walk away.

“We are intending, we are setting out, we are straining every sinew to get a deal. That will be the best outcome. But, for two reasons, we need to prepare for all the other alternatives. One, because it’s a negotiation with many people and could go wrong, and so we have to be ready for that. Secondly, because in a negotiation you always have to have the right to walk away – if you don’t, you get a terrible deal,” he said.

Downing Street sought to play down the apparent rift between the ministers, who were on opposite sides during last year’s referendum campaign. A spokeswoman said that Ms Rudd was “referring to the fact that a deal is in the best interests of both sides and that’s something the prime minister absolutely agrees with”.

Dragging out negotiations

Mr Davis said the EU side was dragging out the negotiations by refusing to start talking about a trade deal in an effort to squeeze more money out of Britain.

“They are using time pressure to get more money out of us. Bluntly, that is what’s going on. It’s obvious to anybody,” he told MPs.

Mr Davis said the negotiations on Northern Ireland and Ireland had made progress, with both sides agreeing joint principles on the continuation of the common travel area and associated rights. The two teams had mapped out areas of co-operation that function on a North-South basis and agreed a set of guiding principles to protect the Belfast Agreement, he said.

He suggested that the EU was beginning to accept Britain’s argument that progress on the future of the Border is impossible before talks about trade and customs are under way.

“I think that, over time, the European Union has come to a similar view, although it may never have said so explicitly. I do not want to predict what the conclusions will say when they come out on Friday, but I suspect they will pay proper attention to the fact that we have made quite a lot of progress on Northern Ireland, possibly as much as we can,” he said.