Jeremy Hunt, UK foreign secretary, has tried to corral Eurosceptic Tory MPs into supporting Theresa May’s EU exit deal next week, warning that if they vote it down they could paralyse parliament and scupper Brexit altogether.
Mr Hunt increased the pressure on Brexiters by claiming that it now looked likely that parliament would not allow Britain to leave the EU without a deal — the “clean break” option favoured by some Tory MPs.
“Another possibility is coming into sight which is no Brexit,” Mr Hunt said, suggesting that a second EU referendum could turn out to be the only way to break the deadlock at Westminster.
“If this deal is rejected, ultimately what we might end up with is not a different kind of Brexit but Brexit paralysis — and that could ultimately lead to no Brexit.”
He said that such an outcome would destroy trust between the public, who had voted for Brexit, and politicians. “That’s something we would regret for many generations,” Mr Hunt told the BBC’s Today programme.
Mr Hunt claimed that the possibility of a no deal Brexit was “looking much less likely”, after pro-EU MPs delivered two stinging defeats on the government this week.
He said that the Commons speaker John Bercow was “willing to frustrate the government at every opportunity”; ministers believe he would give MPs a parliamentary mechanism to stop a no deal exit.
Cabinet opposition to no deal is also growing; Amber Rudd, work and pensions secretary, on Friday became the latest minister to refuse to say whether she would quit rather than stay in a government that tried to leave the EU without an agreement.
Mr Hunt said that with “no deal” blocked, there was a risk that there would be no parliamentary consensus around any other form of Brexit; in those circumstances, he argued, Brexit might be halted.