Brexit: Downing Street dials down rhetoric about no-deal outcome

Decision to continue trade talks without new deadline seen as positive signal on deal

London: Number 10 is emphasising that its negotiators are working with Brussels to find a Brexit deal. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

London: Number 10 is emphasising that its negotiators are working with Brussels to find a Brexit deal. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

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As talks between Britain and the European Union resumed in Brussels on Monday, Downing Street dialled down its rhetoric about a no-deal outcome and stressed that British negotiators were working for an agreement.

“Obviously no deal is a possible outcome, as the prime minister has said himself. But we have been clear that we will continue to work and hope to reach a free trade agreement. That’s what the prime minister set out yesterday in his call to Ursula von der Leyen,” Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said.

Downing Street issued a clarification later stressing that Mr Johnson still believed that no deal was the most likely outcome. But the decision to continue negotiating with no new deadline has been received in both London and Brussels as a signal that the two sides are moving towards a deal.

If a deal is agreed, it must be ratified by the European Parliament and MPs at Westminster expect to vote on implementation legislation for any agreement. The prime minister’s official spokesman declined to confirm that there will be such a vote or that MPs will be asked to endorse the deal before it comes into force.

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National interest

“I’m obviously not going to pre-empt the business of the house which obviously gets set out in the usual way. We are confident that there is time to do whatever we need to do in parliament,” he said.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said he would act in the national interest on any vote on the Brexit deal, despite what he called the prime minister’s record of “over-promising and under-delivering”. He said Labour would hold Mr Johnson to account for his promise to get Brexit done.

“A deal is in the national interest, a no deal is not – it looks as though we are at a fork in the road,” he said.

Sir Keir said that both sides had to move in the next couple of days for a deal to become possible but that he did not believe the talks would fail over fish quotas. The Scottish government’s Brexit secretary, Michael Russell, said the Scottish National Party would not back any deal Mr Johnson brings back.

‘Utter folly’

“I doubt any deal will be sufficient for Scotland; we voted against this. [What] we should be doing is saying is this is utter folly. Even at this moment look at this, and imagine what a huge mistake you are making. Why on earth would we vote for the first time ever for a Brexit solution which is utterly the wrong thing for Scotland,” he said.

As expectations of an imminent deal rose at Westminster, veteran Conservative MP Roger Gale, who voted against Brexit in 2016, said Mr Johnson should resign if he fails to reach an agreement with the EU.

“If an acceptable deal is not agreed then the prime minister will have failed. I believe his position would then be untenable. Then an honourable man would make way for somebody else to give the country the leadership it needs. That is precisely what David Cameron did when he failed to win the referendum,” he said.