Brexit committee demands government rule out no-deal Brexit

Hillary Benn at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in Middletown, Co. Armagh. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA.

Hillary Benn at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in Middletown, Co. Armagh. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA.

PA Archive/PA Images

The government must rule out a no-deal Brexit, an influential Westminster committee has concluded.

Exiting the EU Committee chairman Hilary Benn said pursuing a so-called managed no-deal as an alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit deal would be irresponsible.

Benn said: “Despite the resounding defeat of the prime minister’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, the EU Withdrawal Act specifies that the UK’s ‘exit day’ will be 29 March at 11pm - deal or no deal.

“Having taken a wide range of evidence on the implications of a no-deal Brexit, the committee is clear this cannot be allowed to happen.

The Leeds Central Labour MP continued: “The suggestion that the UK might opt for a no-deal outcome but assume that the EU will continue to act in a co-operative manner to avoid disruption, cannot seriously constitute the policy of any responsible government.

“MPs must be able to vote on extending Article 50 if Parliament cannot reach agreement on a way forward before 29 March.”

Former international development secretary Benn said the UK was unprepared for the disruption of a no-deal Brexit.

The report outlines how “a lack of transparency and a lack of time” have hampered Whitehall’s preparations for a no-deal departure and risks “points of failure for which we will not have prepared”.

The committee warns of “very significant delays” - particularly for fresh food and drink, medicines and components including those for car manufacturers - and highlights how reliant the UK would be on EU neighbours.

They said: “We are not convinced that the steps being taken by the Government to mitigate the worst effects of this disruption will be sufficient.

“Equally importantly, the avoidance of disruption will be dependent on steps that are taken in Calais and other cross-channel ports to prepare for any increased checks.

“However successful the government’s preparations are on this side of Channel, they will not avoid major disruption if reciprocal effective steps are not taken by EU Member States to ensure that trade continues smoothly.”

No deal would risk a hard Irish border, the report warns, if the UK maintains independent policies for trade and regulation, “given the EU’s expressed concerns about maintaining the integrity of the single market and the customs union”.

The committee also flags the danger of three million EU citizens in the UK being suddenly exposed to “a hostile environment” because they would be unable to prove their legal status.

MPs also expressed concern about the extent of “assumptions of an ongoing co-operative relationship”, which underpin the government’s no-deal planning and concluded these assumptions could be “misplaced”.

They said: “Since these assumptions cannot be guaranteed, a “managed no deal” cannot constitute the policy of any responsible Government.

“Any co-operative relationship with the EU following a no-deal exit will likely require the UK to come up with a reasonable offer on settling its outstanding financial obligations, undertake some guarantee of the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and provide some indication of how a hard border in Ireland will be avoided in the event that the UK pursues an independent trade policy and a policy of regulatory divergence.

“Without guarantees in these three areas, which have been the EU’s priorities since the beginning of the process, expectations of maintaining cooperation to minimise disruptions to trade, security co-operation and a whole range of areas of mutual interest could be misplaced.”

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