Ministers cannot consider making a no-deal scenario its official Brexit policy, a powerful House of Commons committee has said on the eve of a fresh set of crucial votes by MPs.
Exiting the EU Committee chairman Hilary Benn said no responsible government would pursue a so-called “managed no-deal” as an alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit.
It comes amid reports that civil servants are considering using sweeping powers to respond to a breakdown of law and order following a no-deal Brexit, including the possible imposition of martial law.
Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, ministers could impose curfews and travel bans, and even confiscate property, while civil servants have also “war-gamed” declaring a state of emergency and calling in the army.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock denied the Government was “specifically” planning for martial law but did not rule it out.
“I wouldn’t put a stress on that,” he said. “Of course Government all the time looks at all the options in all circumstances.”
Prime Minister Theresa May faces a major Commons clash tomorrow, with MPs set to vote on a series of propositions from backbenchers, ranging from a bid to delay Brexit to an instruction to replace the controversial Irish border ‘backstop’ plan.
If the government backs an amendment seeking to attach a time-limit or unilateral withdrawal mechanism to the backstop, it may result in the EU rejecting the proposed Brexit agreement altogether, resulting in no deal.
After the record defeat for Mrs May’s Plan A, Mr Benn’s committee - which includes ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg - has considered alternatives, including extending Article 50 to allow for renegotiation of the Political Declaration.
Mr Benn said: “Despite the resounding defeat of the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, the EU Withdrawal Act specifies that the UK’s ‘exit day’ will be 29 March at 11pm - deal or no deal. Having taken a wide range of evidence on the implications of a no-deal Brexit, the committee is clear this cannot be allowed to happen.”
The Leeds Central Labour MP continued: “The suggestion that the UK might opt for a no-deal outcome but assume that the EU will continue to act in a co-operative manner to avoid disruption, cannot seriously constitute the policy of any responsible Government.
“MPs must be able to vote on extending Article 50 if Parliament cannot reach agreement on a way forward before 29 March.”
Cabinet divisions over a no-deal exit from the EU have resurfaced, with the Education Secretary Damian Hinds saying he could not envisage the government supporting a no-deal Brexit.
His comments came after Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom branded attempts by MPs to kill no deal as an option, through a series of Commons amendments on Tuesday, as a “thinly veiled attempt to stop Brexit”.
“I don’t envisage no deal becoming Government policy,” Mr Hinds told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday. “We want to avoid a no deal. No deal would not be a good outcome.”