Dominic Raab has claimed Britain will be in a better position to negotiate a “good deal” with the European Union if it crashes out of the bloc before the end of October.
The foreign secretary believes a no-deal scenario could provide more leverage in the context of a free trade agreement and resolve long-standing issues such as the Irish backstop.
The MP for Esher and Walton in Surrey also suggested the EU’s “stubborn” behaviour would be responsible if the UK left without a deal and refused to endorse Boris Johnson’s claim during his campaign for the Conservative leadership that the prospect of a no-deal Brexit was a-million-to-one against.
On leaving without a deal after 31 October, Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The prospect of reverting and getting a good deal will be easier after we have left if that is the case. The reason being we do as an independent third country and less subject to effectively the demands of the EU as we are now.”
During a hustings event in June, Johnson said the chances of a no-deal Brexit were a “million-to-one against” despite repeatedly promising to leave by the deadline.
The government has stepped up preparations for such an outcome in recent days. Michael Gove said over the weekend that officials were “operating on the assumption” that a deal would not be struck.
Raab insisted the government wanted to strike a deal with the EU and would make renewed efforts to reach out to Brussels in meetings during the summer parliamentary recess.
However, he said there “must be some change from the EU”.
“I think what people want to know is the reassurance first of all we are going to deliver Brexit by the end of October – that is the massive trust issue here, if you want to frame it in those terms.
“Secondly, while we want a good deal with our EU friends and partners we must abolish the undemocratic backstop. We will keep straining every sinew if a deal is to be done, but the EU will need to move [its position].
“If they don’t it is incredibly important we are ready for all eventualities.”
The former Brexit secretary added: “We want a good deal but since the remarks [Johnson made] we have had a series of fairly stubborn positions staked out from the EU. In fairness you would expect that; it’s only a few days into this administration.
“If they stick to that line – they’re not willing to move at all, they have reaffirmed that – we must be prepared to give the country the finality it needs, to prepare businesses and people more broadly.”
Raab added there was a mandate for a no-deal Brexit and “Brussels isn’t the only game in town”, with opportunities for trade deals with the US, Latin America and Asia.
His remarks come after the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said on Friday that “more and more people in Northern Ireland will come to question the union” if the UK crashed out of the EU.
Meanwhile, the former Conservative minister Sir Oliver Letwin said Theresa May’s government had not done enough work to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.
Letwin told the BBC: “I think there should have been considerably more preparation even stretching back a couple of years, but we are where we are and although, as you’ve just said, I don’t think it’s very sensible for this country to be heading towards a no deal. We have to accept this government intends, if it can’t get the deal it likes, to take us out without a deal.
“So we may very well find ourselves leaving without a deal, and in that context it makes abundant sense to do everything that can be done in the next three months to prepare the country to minimise the impact of it.”
Raab: UK will be better able to negotiate with EU after no-deal Brexit – The Guardian