No deal Brexit would be ‘cataclysmic’ for Britain, Jeremy Hunt warns

No deal would be ‘cataclysmic’ for Britain, Jeremy Hunt warned today as he urged MPs to back Theresa May‘s Brexit deal. 

The Foreign Secretary said he supported the deal – subject to Brussels giving new legal assurances the controversial backstop was in fact ‘temporary’. 

Brexiteers told MailOnline no deal would in fact be ‘cataclysmic’ for the EU because it would not get the £39billion divorce payment from Britain. 

MPs are expected to finally vote on the deal in mid January. A first vote cancelled amid a vast Tory rebellion that would have consigned it to a landslide defeat. 

Mr Hunt insisted there was a ‘version’ of Mrs May’s deal that could overcome the opposition and get through the House of Commons. 

His intervention came as Jeremy Corbyn urged the PM to cut the Christmas recess short and recall Parliament so MPs can vote on the Brexit deal.

The Cabinet will meet next week to further discuss no deal planning. In their final meeting before Christmas, ministers activated all no deal contingency plans – including putting 3,500 troops on standby and warning the public to make preparations for themselves and their families. 

No deal would be 'cataclysmic' for Britain, Jeremy Hunt (pictured in Downing Street earlier this month) warned today as he urged MPs to back Theresa May's Brexit deal

No deal would be 'cataclysmic' for Britain, Jeremy Hunt (pictured in Downing Street earlier this month) warned today as he urged MPs to back Theresa May's Brexit deal

No deal would be ‘cataclysmic’ for Britain, Jeremy Hunt (pictured in Downing Street earlier this month) warned today as he urged MPs to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal

MPs are due to return to the Commons on January 7 after a two-week Christmas break, and will begin a new debate on Mrs May’s deal on January 9 – with a vote expected to take place the following week.

What are the no deal Brexit plans which have been enacted?

Here are the emergency no deal plans which have been activated: 

Some 3,500 troops are on standby for no deal Brexit 

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the troops could be used by any department as needed – but that no specific requests had yet been made for them. 

Ministers will book space on ferries to ensure critical supplies,  such as medicines,  can get in if there are long queues at the borders 

Families are to to be given advice on how to prepare for a no deal Brexit

Up to 10,000 lorries could be parked in Kent if no deal causes delays at the ports  

The Kent authorities have warned that the gridlock could mean pupils miss school and exams, while bodies could pile up

Mr Hunt told the Today programme: ‘The EU has agreed that the backstop is temporary and what we need them to do is define what temporary is.

‘So my view is this is not the time to be talking about what other major changes we might be faced with making because actually we can get this through.

‘We can get this through, absolutely can.’

Mr Hunt reiterated the need for the EU to define the temporary nature of the backstop, adding: ‘Because if it is temporary then Parliament can live with that, but you need to show us.

‘So I am a supporter of Theresa May’s deal with those qualifications to the backstop and I think MPs, as they reflect on how close we are to an agreement, but also how cataclysmic it would be if we didn’t end up having an agreement we could get through Parliament, the best thing is to put our heads down and make sure we have a version of this agreement that we can through Parliament.’

Asked if he was interested in becoming Conservative Party leader, Mr Hunt replied: ‘I think we have a very good leader of the Conservative Party, a very good Prime Minister, frankly, doing probably the most difficult job of any leader in the Western world right now, and what we need to do – as she’s battling for Britain – is get behind her.’

Mr Hunt's intervention came as Jeremy Corbyn urged the PM to cut the Christmas recess short and recall Parliament so MPs can vote on the Brexit deal

Mr Hunt's intervention came as Jeremy Corbyn urged the PM to cut the Christmas recess short and recall Parliament so MPs can vote on the Brexit deal

Mr Hunt’s intervention came as Jeremy Corbyn urged the PM to cut the Christmas recess short and recall Parliament so MPs can vote on the Brexit deal

Responding to Mr Hunt’s claim, Tory MP Nigel Evans told MailOnline: ‘It would be cataclysmic for the EU who will lose £39 billion from us in three months. 

‘It is in the interest of the EU to come to a sensible arrangement with the UK in order that they can continue to have £95 billion trade surplus with the UK. 

‘We need to get the legal clarity which the PM said she would get from the EU and get the DUP back on board – otherwise we cannot govern without their support and that would be truly cataclysmic.’ 

What is in the Brexit deal? 

The Brexit divorce deal contains a raft of agreements and compromises – many of which are bitterly opposed by Eurosceptic rebels. It includes: 

  • A two year transition period from March 29, 2019, where most rules stay the same 
  • A £39billion divorce payment
  • Bilateral protections for EU citizen in the UK and Britons living in Europe 
  • A backstop to keep open the Irish border if a final trade deal cannot be negotiated before the end of transition
  • Promises to negotiate a final trade deal as soon as possible in line with a ‘political declaration’ on what it should look like 

Mr Corbyn, in an interview with the Independent, refused to be drawn on whether Labour would seek to extend Article 50 to keep the UK in the EU for longer, and said: ‘Lots of things are possible, the EU has longform on reopening and extending negotiations, but let’s not jump too many hoops when we haven’t arrived at them.’

Mr Corbyn also said it was in Mrs May’s hands whether she should recall Parliament a week early, on January 2.

‘I want us to have a vote as soon as possible, that’s what I’ve been saying for the past two weeks, and if that means recalling Parliament to have the vote let’s have it,’ he told the paper.

‘But it looks to me the Government has once again reneged on that and tried to put it back another week.

‘We need to have that vote so a decision of parliament can be made. What I suspect is that it’s a completely cynical manoeuvre to run down the clock and offer MPs the choice of the devil or the deep blue sea.’

A Downing Street source labelled Mr Corbyn’s call a ‘silly demand’, and said: ‘Following debate in the Commons, in the week commencing January 14 MPs will vote on the Brexit deal.

‘Instead of making silly demands, Jeremy Corbyn should be honest with voters that he has no alternative plan, and only intends to frustrate Brexit — ultimately betraying the referendum result.’

What is the Irish border backstop and why do Tory MPs hate it? 

The entire Brexit deal has been stalled over the so-called Irish border backstop in the divorce package. This is what it means: 

What is the backstop? 

The backstop was invented to meet promises to keep open the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland even if there is no comprehensive UK-EU trade deal.

The divorce deal says it will kick in automatically at the end of the Brexit transition if that deal is not in place.

If effectively keeps the UK in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland in both the customs union and single market.

This means many EU laws will keep being imposed on the UK and there can be no new trade deals. It also means regulatory checks on some goods crossing the Irish Sea. 

Why have Ireland and the EU demanded it? 

Because Britain demanded to leave the EU customs union and single market, the EU said it needed guarantees people and goods circulating inside met EU rules.

This is covered by the Brexit transition, which effectively maintains current rules, and can in theory be done in the comprehensive EU-UK trade deal.

But the EU said there had to be a backstop to cover what happens in any gap between transition and final deal.  

Why do critics hate it? 

Because Britain cannot decide when to leave the backstop. 

Getting out – even if there is a trade deal – can only happen if both sides agree people and goods can freely cross the border.

Brexiteers fear the EU will unreasonably demand the backstop continues so EU law continues to apply in Northern Ireland.  

Northern Ireland MPs also hate the regulatory border in the Irish Sea, insisting it unreasonably carves up the United Kingdom. 

What concessions did Britain get in negotiating it? 

During the negotiations, Britain persuaded Brussels the backstop should apply to the whole UK and not just Northern Ireland. Importantly, this prevents a customs border down the Irish Sea – even if some goods still need to be checked.

The Government said this means Britain gets many of the benefits of EU membership after transition without all of the commitments – meaning Brussels will be eager to end the backstop. 

It also got promises the EU will act in ‘good faith’ during the future trade talks and use its ‘best endeavours’ to finalise a deal – promises it says can be enforced in court.

What did the legal advice say about it? 

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said even with the EU promises, if a trade deal cannot be reached the backstop could last forever.

This would leave Britain stuck in a Brexit limbo, living under EU rules it had no say in writing and no way to unilaterally end it.  

What is the Brexit Political Declaration, what does it change, and what happens next?

Q: What is the Political Declaration that Theresa May has agreed with the EU?

A: The document is a series of commitments on the future relationship the UK will have with Brussels after Brexit. It is simply a political declaration and has no legally binding weight in and of itself.

Q: How is it different from the EU Withdrawal Agreement agreed last week? 

A: The Withdrawal Agreement runs to 585 pages covers the UK’s divorce from Brussels – so areas such as the amount of money the UK will pay the EU, the rights of EU nationals in the UK after Brexit and vice versa, and what happens to the Irish border if a free trade deal is not done in time. 

In stark contrast to the Political Declaration, it is a legally binding document.

Q: What areas does the Political Declaration cover?

A: The declaration includes immigration, fishing rights, trade policy, cooperation on security, and how disputes between the UK and EU will be settled after Britain quits the Brussels bloc and with it the European Court of Justice.  

Q: What has changed from the draft Political Declaration last week?

A: Today’s Political Declaration runs to 26 pages – far longer than the 7-page draft which was published last week. It includes extra clauses which stress commitments to try to use technology and a free trade deal to keep the Irish border soft, rather than relying on the controversial backstop which would keep the UK tied to an EU customs union.

Q: Why are Brexiteers angry at the deal?

A: Furious Tory Brexiteers have lined up to condemn the document. They say that new clauses on using technology to keep the Irish border soft are toothless because they are not in the Withdrawal Agreement, which is the document which dictates the terms the UK  leaves the EU on.

They have also accused the PM of betraying fishermen by agreeing to do a new deal with the EU which could see European countries given rights to fish in Britain’s waters. 

Q: Why are Remainers angry at the deal?

A: The PM is also facing a barrage of attacks from Remainers, who say that the deal is not as good as staying in the EU and are pushing for another referendum which could see the Brexit result overturned.

Q: What happens to the Political Declaration now?

A: MPs will vote on the Political Declaration along with the EU Withdrawal Agreement in Parliament next month. But the PM is facing overwhelming opposition from rebellious Tory Brexiteers, Labour, the DUP and the SNP. In the face of this barrage of attacks, the Brexit deal is expected to be voted down.

Q: What happens if the Brexit deal is voted down? 

A: Theresa May would probably go back to Brussels and try to negotiate further – perhaps getting more guarantees in the political declaration and concessions in the Withdrawal Agreement. But it remains to be seen if the EU would be willing to  change the document.

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