Tory MP says EU Withdrawal Bill plan increases 'no deal' risk

19 November 2017, 13:41

A Tory MP has labelled the Government's attempts to write the Brexit date into UK law as "madness" - warning that it would increase the risk of Britain leaving the EU without a divorce deal.

Former minister Stephen Hammond, who was labelled a "Brexit mutineer" by The Daily Telegraph last week, claimed enshrining the date in the EU Withdrawal Bill would prevent "flexibility" if it was felt exit talks needed to be extended.

Speaking to Sky News' Niall Paterson about the potential for a "no deal" Brexit, Mr Hammond said: "We have to make provision for it and accept it is a possibility.

"And we have to accept, actually, by putting this date on the front of the bill, unfortunately you've made that more likely."

Mr Hammond, who supported Remain last year, said leaving the EU without an exit agreement would be an "economic catastrophe".

The Government's amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill aims to declare 11pm on 29 March 2019 as the official moment the UK leaves the EU.

Meanwhile, in another sign of deepening Conservative divisions, former attorney-general Dominic Grieve - who also opposes the Government's plan - was scathing of some of his fellow Tory MPs' approach to Brexit.

"I do sometimes think that some of my colleagues have become unhinged, actually - not the Prime Minister," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"The Prime Minister's problem is that she's surrounded by people who get louder and more strident by the moment as some of the inevitable problems, which were going to come with Brexit, start to make themselves apparent."

However, despite previous signals the Government might retreat on the proposal to enshrine the Brexit date in UK legislation, Chancellor Philip Hammond suggested there might not be any movement despite backbench anger.

Speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, he insisted ministers "have no plans to change what we're putting before Parliament".

Ahead of his Budget on Wednesday, the Chancellor suggested Britain was nearing a "turning point" and about to make "serious movement forward" in Brexit talks.

He revealed the UK would "make proposals" to the EU on its financial settlement before a key Brussels summit next month.

"It's not about demands, it's about what is properly due from the UK to the EU under international law in accordance with the European treaties," he said.

"We have always been clear it won't be easy to work out that number, but whatever is due we will pay, we are a nation that honours our debts.

"Of course we will negotiate hard whether there is any question, any doubt about whether an item is payable or not."

Andy Burnham, Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, told Sky News that Westminster "looks increasingly dysfunctional" as MPs attempt to deal with Brexit.

The former Cabinet minister, who left Parliament earlier this year to take up his mayoralty, voiced fears of a "London-centric" approach to Britain's departure from the EU to the detriment of regions and industries outside the capital.

Demanding a "seat at the table" during the UK's negotiations with the EU, Mr Burnham called for further devolution as a response to Brexit.

"On many you can see how Westminster hasn't come up with the solutions the North of England needs," he said.

"Now with Brexit looming, finding solutions to those issues has become urgent."