LONDON—Britain is more likely to leave the EU without a deal if lawmakers reject the agreement that Prime Minister Theresa May has negotiated, one of her ministers said Jan. 3, as a second said a “no-deal” exit would hit the farming sector hard.
Brexit is scheduled for March 29 but, while Stephen Barclay and Michael Gove both warned against an unmanaged departure, what will actually happen that day remains far from clear.
The future of May’s agreement hangs in the balance in the run-up to a parliamentary vote, and calls for a second referendum—which she has consistently rejected—are growing.
“No deal will be far more likely if MPs [Members of Parliament] reject the government’s Brexit deal,” Brexit minister Barclay wrote in the Daily Express newspaper, arguing that May’s plan was the only “workable deal” available.
British farmers and food firms would face rising costs in the event of no deal, as export tariffs kicked in and border inspections slowed traffic through ports, environment minister Gove said.
Lawmakers must choose whether to accept May’s plan for a structured exit and relatively close economic ties, or reject it and spawn huge uncertainty about the country’s next steps. The vote is due in the week beginning Jan. 14.
The main barrier to May’s deal is opposition to a “backstop” designed to prevent the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU state Ireland, if a better solution to maintain free-flowing trade isn’t found.
Critics argue that could leave Britain trapped inside the EU’s customs union indefinitely.
Within Britain’s opposition Labour Party, which has so far backed a negotiated exit but doesn’t support May’s deal, there is growing support for a second Brexit referendum. But the Guardian newspaper reported that party leader Jeremy Corbyn would resist such a policy change.
Barclay said the government would step up preparations next week. “On Tuesday, we will start a new phase in our public information campaign,” he wrote.