Brexit: No evidence for '˜no deal better than bad deal' claim

Theresa May has no evidence for her claim that 'no deal is better than a bad deal' on post-Brexit trade with the EU and must publish a full assessment of crashing out of Europe without an agreement, a committee of MPs has said.

Theresa May speaks to troops as she arrives in Ammam, Jordan. Picture: PA
Theresa May speaks to troops as she arrives in Ammam, Jordan. Picture: PA

The House of Commons exiting the EU Committee said the Prime Minister’s claim, issued as a threat to walk away from talks in Brussels if the UK isn’t offered the terms it wants, was “unsubstantiated”.

MPs said that parliament must be given a vote on whether to accept the Prime Minister’s decision to leave without a deal if a two-year Brexit negotiation process fails to produce a deal.

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The committee highlighted concerns from devolved administrations that powers returning from the EU in areas such as agriculture, fisheries and the environment could be retained by Westminster, and said devolved parliaments should get to vote on legislation to repatriate EU law.

It said ministers should consider giving different parts of the country control over immigration, a key Scottish Government demand ruled out by Downing Street.

And the government was told it should formally respond to proposals from devolved administrations on how to handle Brexit talks “as a matter of urgency” before they get under way in earnest.

The document split the cross-party committee, with six pro-Brexit MPs voting against its publication amid reports of a walkout by members who regarded it as “too gloomy”.

Five Conservatives - including former ministers John Whittingdale and Dominic Raab - and Democratic Unionist Sammy Wilson voted against the report, but were outnumbered by ten Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat, SNP and SDLP committee members, all of whom backed Remain in last year’s referendum.

Mr Whittingdale said the report was “unduly negative” and had “very much concentrated on the problems without really recognising the opportunities” of Brexit.

Peter Grant, one of two SNP MPs on the committee, said: “The Tory government and its hard Brexit cheerleaders must abandon its outdated ‘Rule Britannia’ mentality with our EU neighbours and instead offer some long-overdue clarity on its EU negotiations position which its White Paper hopelessly failed to do.

“The report recognises the lack of engagement and respect by the UK government towards devolved administrations and on the compromise paper put forward by the Scottish Government which has fallen on deaf ears.”

Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat representative on the committee, said: “It is extraordinary that we are having to call for the government to come up with a detailed assessment of the cost of leaving the EU without a deal in place.”

Theresa May has already triggered Article 50 without any plan in place, and without having thought through any of the consequences, to the extent that senior Conservatives figures have even mooted the possibility of war with Spain.

The committee last month heard Brexit Secretary David Davis admit that no assessment had been made of the cost of leaving the EU without a trade deal and falling back on World Trade Organisation tariffs.

“Without an economic assessment of ‘no deal’ having been done and without evidence that steps are being taken to mitigate what would be the damaging effect of such an outcome, the government’s assertion that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, is unsubstantiated,” the report warns.

It backed the finding of a previous report by the Commons foreign affairs committee that a ‘no deal’ scenario “represents a very destructive outcome leading to mutually assured damage for the EU and the UK”.

Committee chairman Hilary Benn said: “Leaving the EU without a future trade deal and in doing so defaulting to World Trade Organisation rules is no less an important decision for the UK’s economic future than the terms of any future Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the EU.”