International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said the UK was “not bluffing” about being prepared to walk away from Brussels talks without a deal.
Fox, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis lined up to defend their Brexit strategy as protesters and business figures expressed their anger at how negotiations were going.
Organisers said that about 100,000 demonstrators marked the second anniversary of the Brexit vote by marching from Pall Mall to Parliament, demanding another referendum – this time on the terms of Brexit.
Fox told the BBC it was “essential” the EU “understands ... and believes” the Prime Minister’s assertion that no deal would be better than a bad deal.
He said the threat had “added credibility because if we were to leave, the economic impact on a number of European countries would be severe”.
“I think our negotiating partners would not be wise if they believed that the Prime Minister was bluffing,” he said.
Davis said the UK was “able to leave without a deal”, arguing that walking away had to be an option, no matter how unpalatable.
“We don’t want to do that, never have,” he said. “The best option is leaving with a good deal, but you’ve got to be able to walk away from the table.”
Rejecting claims the government had failed to make adequate preparations for a no-deal Brexit, he told a national newspaper: “There’s lots going on. We haven’t made it public for very simple reasons. This is a careful process. It is not designed to scare the horses or to worry people. It is designed to get the work done.”
The Brexit Secretary cited planning on migration matters and health standards, as well as treatment available to Britons in Europe.
“Work is going on all these things for both the negotiated outcome and if something goes wrong,” Davis said.
Johnson meanwhile indicated he intended to pursue a hard Brexit, saying people would not tolerate a “bog roll Brexit” that was “soft, yielding and seemingly infinitely long”.
But the remarks were criticised by business figures the day after both Airbus and BMW voiced concerns about Brexit.
Airbus warned it could pull out of Britain with the loss of thousands of jobs, while BMW demanded clarity by the end of the summer.
Siemens UK chief executive Juergen Maier yesterday said the ministers’ remarks were “incredibly unhelpful” and it was time to work for a more pragmatic deal with the EU.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today the firm wanted a soft Brexit with “minimum friction”, saying the government had presided over “two years of not having achieved what we were promised, which is that this was all going to be easy”.
“I think the realities are setting in and I think it is time to get away from slogans – ‘full British Brexit’, ‘going into combat with Europe’,” he said.
“It’s all incredibly unhelpful and what we need to do now is to get closer with our European partners and work out what a realistic, pragmatic Brexit is that works for both sides, the EU and ourselves.”
Crowds waving flags and placards filled Parliament Square yesterday chanting “We demand a people’s vote”.
Comedian Andy Parsons introduced prominent Remainers on-stage, including campaigner Gina Miller, actor Tony Robinson and former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who claimed Brexiteer politicians were resorting to insults because the political momentum was falling away from them.
As Remainers marched in London, around 8,000 Scottish independence supporters also made their annual pilgrimage to Bannockburn. More marches are planned for Edinburgh and Dundee later this year.