No-deal Brexit would offer opportunities, Raab tells MPs

The Brexit Secretary insisted that agreement with Brussels was ‘within our grasp’ (Victoria Jones/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Leaving the  EU without a withdrawal agreement would offer “opportunities” to the UK, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has told MPs.

While stressing that the Government is not seeking a no-deal Brexit, Mr Raab said it would allow Britain to negotiate and implement new trade agreements more quickly, take swift action on immigration and hasten the end of contributions to EU budgets.

In the face of growing warnings that time is running out, Mr Raab insisted that agreement with Brussels was “within our grasp” and pledged that the UK “will be ready for Brexit, deal or no deal”.

The Brexit Secretary was speaking after a ministerial charm offensive over the summer to persuade the remaining 27 EU member states of the merits of Theresa May’s “Chequers plan” for future relations.

Downing Street confirmed that Mrs May will use an informal summit of the European Council in Salzburg later this month to make the case for her blueprint direct to fellow leaders.

Mr Raab told MPs that he and other ministers had received “a wide range of positive and constructive feedback” in more than 60 engagements with European counterparts in the weeks since the publication of Mrs May’s plan, though he acknowledged that some found elements of the proposals “challenging”.

“I will continue to meet regularly with Michel Barnier, confident that a deal is within our grasp,” he said.

“And if the ambition and pragmatism that we have shown is matched by our EU friends, this House and the British people can rest assured that the UK will be ready for Brexit, deal or no deal.”

There was laughter from some parts of the Commons chamber as Mr Raab said there were “some risks from a no-deal scenario”.

But he told MPs: “While it’s not what we want, a no-deal scenario would bring some countervailing opportunities.

“We would be able to lower tariffs and negotiate and bring into effect new free trade deals straight away. There would be the immediate recovery of full legislative and regulatory control, including over immigration policy, and – whilst mindful of our legal obligations – a swifter end to our financial contributions to the EU.”

The Chequers plan has come under assault from many sides, with the EU’s chief negotiator Mr Barnier saying he is “strongly opposed” to the UK proposals, which he warned would undermine the European project and the single market.

But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman noted that, while negotiations are taking place with Mr Barnier as the representative of the European Commission, final approval of any Brexit deal is a matter for EU leaders meeting in the European Council.

“The negotiations are taking place with the commission, we have always respected that fact,” said the PM’s spokesman.

“But equally this is a decision which at the end of the process will be taken at a political level by the European Council.

“So you can obviously expect a continued and strong engagement with fellow European countries.”

The Commons resumed after the summer recess, with the pace of Brexit talks in Brussels intensifying in the hope of achieving a deal this autumn.

But Conservative divisions have deepened, with former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Mrs May’s Downing Street engaged in a bitter war of words over the approach to Brexit.

Mr Johnson used his regular Daily Telegraph column on Monday to launch a scathing attack on Mrs May’s Brexit strategy, branding it a “fix” that can only lead to victory for the EU.

But Downing Street said the former Cabinet minister was offering “no new ideas” and said the country needed “serious leadership with a serious plan”, which was being provided by the current premier.

Former party leader Lord Hague used his own Telegraph column to warn Tories their civil war could result in the collapse of the Government and either a second referendum or a general election – and the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street.

“Some say May’s plan is too much of a compromise, a small number that it isn’t enough of one, and still others now advocate a different compromise altogether,” he said.

“The likely result is so obvious it hardly needs stating, which is that the entire idea is put at risk, and all of them will lose out in the end.

“It is thus quite possible that a year from now, we could be contemplating why we are still in the EU after all, or why we left it with maximum damage all round with minimum notice, or how we came to have an even weaker minority government, or how a Marxist despised by his own MPs ended up as Prime Minister.”

Meanwhile the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign group launched a new £200,000 push for a second referendum, demanding an “emergency stop button” to halt Brexit.

Downing Street declined to comment on a damning report by EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly on the fast-track appointment of Martin Selmayr as the commission’s top civil servant.

Formerly chief of staff to commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, the German bureaucrat was unexpectedly named secretary-general in February.

In her report, Ms O’Reilly identified four counts of maladministration by the commission in the process.

Number 10 said it was “a matter for the commission”.