Divided Brexit committee calls for urgent assessment of '˜no deal' option

Brexit committee chairman Hilary BennBrexit committee chairman Hilary Benn
Brexit committee chairman Hilary Benn
The Government must publish a 'thorough' assessment of the impact of leaving the EU without a deal as a matter of urgency, an influential committee of MPs has warned, as they accuse Ministers of making 'unsubstantiated' claims about the consequences.

In the latest report from Parliament’s cross-party Brexit select committee, MPs argue there is a real risk of the UK reaching the end of the 24-month Article 50 process without a deal, and Ministers must set out their contingency plans.

The findings follow an evidence session in which Brexit Secretary David Davis admitted there had been no formal assessment of the economic impact of falling back on WTO rules, but said it would likely result in the introduction of hefty tariffs on agricultural exports.

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It also comes amid rumours of a split between remain and leave supporters on the select committee, with a number of Brexiteer MPs refusing to sign off what they describe as an “unduly negative” report.

Ever since Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech in January, Ministers have repeatedly asserted that “no deal” with the EU on issues like trade “is better than a bad deal”. This suggests they are willing to crash out of the Union and revert to World Trade Organisation rules if European leaders are unwilling to concede on issues like freedom of movement and payments,

However, speaking to the Brexit committee last month, Mr Davis revealed the Government has not carried out a comprehensive assessment of the legal and economic impact of a “no deal” scenario. But he said it would likely result in tariffs of 30 to 40 per cent on agricultural exports, the loss of EHIC health insurance cards for travellers, and the loss of passporting rights for financial sector firms.

Responding to this, the committee’s new report concludes that the Government’s assertions are “unsubstantiated” and it is “imperative” that ministers “conduct a thorough assessment of the economic, legal and other implications of leaving the EU without a deal in place”. It also urges the Government to explain what contingency planning is taking place across Whitehall to prepare “for a ‘no deal’ outcome”.

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Commenting on the findings, committee chairman Hilary Benn, the Leeds Central MP, stated: “The public and Parliament have a right to the maximum possible information about the impact of the different future trading options being considered. Parliament must be in an informed position to decide whether a proposed deal is, in fact, better or worse than no deal.”

However, the document reveals that several pro-Brexit MPs objected to these recommendations, with six voting against the overall report. Among them was the Conservative MP John Whittingdale, who claimed it was “unduly negative” and had “very much concentrated on the problems without really recognising the opportunities” of Brexit.

Fellow Tory MP Dominic Raab added that the report “was rushed, skewed and partisan”. “After two reports that had strong support, it’s regrettable that this one split the committee,” he said.

The publication of the document follows assurances from Theresa May that the UK remains “absolutely dedicated to working with Gibraltar”, following the suggestions that Spain should have a veto over any aspects of a Brexit deal affecting the island.

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It also follows claims by the former Ukip Douglas Carswell that he would like to see Britain build on some EU-derived regulations, particularly those concerning the environment.

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