Jeremy Hunt has said there would be ‘Brexit paralysis’ if MPs vote down Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, potentially meaning the UK does not leave the European Union at all.
The foreign secretary claimed that failure to deliver Brexit would be ‘incredibly damaging’ for the UK and something the country would regret for ‘many, many generations’.
But his comments have been welcomed by anti-Brexit campaigners as an indiciation that we may not Brexit after all.
In a significant shift of tone apparently designed to win over hardline Brexiteers who have set their faces against May’s deal, Hunt warned that defeat next week would not necessarily provide MPs with the opportunity to choose their preferred version of Brexit.
Warning that there may be no consensus in the Commons around any possible outcome, he told Today: ‘If this deal is rejected, ultimately what we may end up with is not a different type of Brexit but Brexit paralysis.
‘And Brexit paralysis ultimately could lead to no Brexit.
‘I’m saying this would be (an) incredibly damaging breach of trust and it would also be very bad for Britain’s reputation abroad, having decided to leave the EU, if we in the end for whatever reasons found we weren’t able to do it.’
Hunt claimed: ‘If we were, as a political class, not to deliver Brexit, that would be a fundamental breach of trust between the people and the politicians.
‘I think that is something that we would regret for many, many generations.’
Insisting that he had not given up hope of a government victory, he said: ‘What is important is for MPs on all sides, Brexiters and Remainers, whatever our disagreements, to say ‘We are democrats and the most important thing now is to make sure that we really do deliver Brexit’.’
He also said Eurosceptics may not be able to rely on the clock ticking down to the default option of a no-deal Brexit.
It was not possible for the minority Tory administration to control what happened in parliament, and speaker John Bercow had shown that he was ‘willing to frustrate the government at every opportunity’, he said.
‘I think it’s now looking much less likely that parliament would allow a no-deal outcome anyway,’ said Hunt. ‘We have seen from this week that parliament has the ability to assert itself and to shape outcomes.
‘I think parliament is very committed to try to stop no-deal, but I think we have to recognise that there is a deal on the table, it does broadly deliver the Brexit people voted for, and if we don’t find a way to get this through, we are taking some very big risks.’
David Lammy MP, a leading supporter of People’s Vote, said: ‘The idea that if MPs vote down the deal, we head to no deal has always been a false threat and the foreign secretary has now effectively admitted it.
‘There is no Brexit deal that fulfils all the promises made in the last referendum – or one as good as the deal we’ve already got inside the EU. Instead of embarking on another fruitless effort of renegotiation, it is time to hand this crucial decision back to the people.’