Theresa May’s cabinet will hold three hours of talks on preparations for a no-deal Brexit later this week, it has emerged as critics accused the government of presenting the public with a “false choice”.
Ministers will gather for a special session of cabinet on Thursday morning, hours before the next round of talks on Brexit between the UK government and devolved administrations, which have been pushing for continued membership of the EU single market and customs union.
The meeting is expected to coincide with the publication of the latest tranche of technical papers on the no-deal preparations across a range of sectors.
Scotland’s Constitutional Affairs Secretary Michael Russell claimed Mrs May is trying to “force people to choose between the disaster of a hard Brexit outside the single market and the catastrophe of a no deal Brexit.”
It came as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator raised hopes that the UK could secure a deal by saying agreement was “realistic” within the next six to eight weeks.
Michel Barnier struck a positive tone at a conference in Slovenia, welcoming parts of the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan to keep the UK in the single market for goods.
We must reach an agreement before the beginning of November. I think it is possibleMICHEL BARNIER EU’s chief Brexit negotiator
“I want to reach an agreement on the first stage of the negotiation, which is the Brexit treaty, within six or eight weeks,” Mr Barnier added.
“We must reach an agreement before the beginning of November. I think it is possible.” His comments sparked a rally in trading of sterling on currency markets.
Downing Street defended Mrs May’s Brexit blueprint after a warning that continuing with it could cause a “catastrophic split” in the Conservative Party.
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker said he was “gravely concerned” about a potential schism in Tory ranks if the Prime Minister did not change direction.
Mr Baker’s comments followed an article at the weekend by the former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, which compared the Prime Minister’s approach to putting a “suicide vest” on the country.
Mrs May’s official spokesman responded yesterday, saying: “This isn’t language that the PM would choose to use. Beyond that I don’t propose to give that article any more oxygen.”
Speaking ahead of the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee on European Negotiations, Mr Russell said it was “an utterly false choice” to suggest that the Chequers plan and a no deal Brexit were the only two options.
“We will continue to make the case, vigorously, for membership of the European Single Market – which is around eight times bigger than the UK market alone – and customs union.”