Ministers called in to Downing Street as chancellor rules out hope for 11th-hour changes to ‘compromise’ deal with EU
The idea of a last-ditch negotiation of the Brexit deal to secure a better offer from the EU is a delusion, the chancellor has told MPs, saying there was no alternative offer that could be reached.
His warning came as cabinet ministers were called into Downing Street for an informal meeting with the prime minister to discuss the state of play in the run-up to the vote.
A Downing Street source said the meeting was at Theresa May’s request and included soft-Brexiters such as Hammond and the justice secretary, David Gauke, among those said to be expressing serious concern about the mounting prospect of a no deal if the vote falls next Tuesday.
Others brought in included the chief whip Julian Smith and Brexiters Andrea Leadsom and Michael Gove.
Hammond had earlier opened the third day of the Brexit debate in parliament, on Thursday, themed around the economy, as the mood appeared to harden among Tory MPs against May’s deal.
“I have observed this process at close quarters for two and a half years and I’m absolutely clear about one thing – this deal is the best deal to exit the EU that is available or that is going to be available. The idea that there’s an option of renegotiating at the 11th hour is simply a delusion,” Hammond said.
Hammond repeated the prime minister’s claim that the alternatives to the negotiated deal were no deal or no Brexit. Both of those options, he said, would leave the UK a fractured society and a divided nation.
Hammond implicitly criticised his colleagues who backed the other options, urging MPs to reject both the call to “plunge the country into the uncertainty and economic self-harm of no deal” and the push for a second referendum, which he claimed would “fuel a narrative of betrayal”.
He said the negotiated deal was a compromise which delivered on the referendum but maintained close economic, security and cultural links with the EU.
“Only that compromise can bring us back together after Brexit is delivered, and we should remember the lesson of history, that divided nations are not successful nations,” he said.
Hammond said the consequences of no deal were “too awful to contemplate,” warning that car manufacturers would face tariffs of 10% and agricultural tariffs would be even higher.
“I’ve heard that we have nothing to fear from no deal, nothing except a cliff-edge Brexit in just four months’ time,” he said, adding that it would also mean “the end of frictionless trade with our biggest export market, restrictions on our citizens travelling in Europe, nothing except being the only developed economy in the world trading with the EU on purely WTO terms”.
His speech came as both May and the Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, insisted there was no prospect of Downing Street cancelling the Brexit vote next Tuesday, though the Guardian understands some MPs have been urging the prime minister to do so.
Speaking earlier on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme May signalled that she was determined to plough on with a vote and suggested that a “parliamentary lock” on the Irish backstop could persuade more MPs to back it.
She said: “I am talking to colleagues about how we can look at parliament having a role in going into that and coming out of that.”
She confirmed she was in discussions with MPs opposed to the deal about giving parliament a say in whether the UK entered backstop arrangements or extended the transition period. “If we get to that point there will be a choice between going into the backstop and extending the transition period,” May said.
May earlier sought to push on to would-be rebels the responsibility for determining the future of the UK in the event of her deal’s defeat. “That question is not for me, that question is for those who want to oppose this deal. The options are there – there’s a deal, no deal, or no Brexit.”
Speaking in response to Hammond in the chamber, the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, said Labour would not countenance a no-deal Brexit.
“Let me also say the government threatening MPs with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit to engender support for its own deal serves only to reveal a desperation in government and it’s proving to be completely counterproductive,” he said.
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