UK says no-deal Brexit the only alternative to Chequers plan

David Lidington says no time for new proposals as Barnier rules out single-market compromise

Britain’s Brexit secretary Dominic Raab at the parliamentary committee on Wednesday. “You have a unionist parliament as well as a Conservative and unionist government,” he said.  Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Britain’s Brexit secretary Dominic Raab at the parliamentary committee on Wednesday. “You have a unionist parliament as well as a Conservative and unionist government,” he said. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

Britain has warned the European Union that a no-deal Brexit is the only alternative to Theresa May’s proposal for partial membership of the single market. Cabinet secretary David Lidington, Ms May’s de facto deputy, told a French business conference that it was too late to come up with alternative proposals for a future economic relationship.

“With exactly seven months until the end of Article 50 process and less than two months ahead of the October European Council, we face the choice between the pragmatic proposals we are discussing now with the European Commission, or the risk of there being no deal,” he said.

“The alternative models do not meet the level of ambition or the outcome we all want to see delivered. So, we need the EU to engage with us on our positive vision of the future relationship.”

Ms May’s proposal, agreed at Chequers last month, would keep Britain in the single market for goods and agricultural products but not for services. Britain would follow EU regulations for goods but would not offer free movement to EU citizens and would leave the customs union.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Wednesday that the EU was prepared to offer Britain a partnership “such as has never been with any other third country”. But he stressed that Britain must respect the EU’s core structures, saying that “single market means single market”, before adding that “this is not negotiable”.

Backstop problem

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab dismissed reports that Mr Barnier was not making himself available for negotiations and expressed confidence that a deal can be agreed. He acknowledged that the issue of a backstop to guarantee no return to a hard Border remained the biggest stumbling block in the negotiations.

“The prime minister has been clear . . . that the EU’s proposals are unacceptable, mainly because of the effect they would have on the UK common market and the constitutional integrity of the UK,” he said.

Mr Raab told the House of Lords EU committee that Britain continued to insist that the backstop must be time-limited and he suggested that EU law might also require it to be temporary.

“As a matter of law under article 50 there are constraints on the period of time for which a backstop could last. Obviously, ultimately that has to be tested,” he said.

The Brexit secretary said that votes in the House of Commons on amendments to Brexit-related legislation demonstrated that opposition parties shared the government’s determination to reject any backstop that could undermine Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.

 “It was quite a good opportunity to reinforce the fact that we don’t just have a Conservative and unionist government, but we also have a unionist parliament. On all the amendments that would have risked the concern that we have around a customs border in the Irish Sea, parliament clearly supported the government’s position. So you have a unionist parliament as well as a Conservative and unionist government,” he said.