Theresa May has refused to speculate about what she will do if MPs vote down her Brexit deal on 11 December.
She said she wanted MPs to “focus on the choice that lies in front of them” and ignore other potential options.
She described calls for another referendum or delaying 29 March’s departure date as attempts to “frustrate” Brexit.
The prime minister was appearing before the liaison committee of select committee chairs.
She said if MPs “voted down” her deal “then obviously decisions would have to be taken” and planning for a no-deal Brexit would be stepped up.
Labour is hoping to force a general election or, failing that, another referendum, if, as currently widely expected, MPs reject Mrs May’s deal.
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Mrs May told the committee the only deal on offer was the one she had negotiated with the EU.
“This is an important point in our history. It is a vote on which we will be deciding whether we deliver on the decision of the British people,” she told the MPs.
“What has been made clear from the European Union is that this is the deal that has been negotiated and this is the deal that people need to focus on when they are looking at the vote.”
She faced repeated calls to rule out a no-deal Brexit but declined to do so.
Asked by Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston about fears of medicine shortages and other impacts on the NHS of a no-deal Brexit, the PM said: “If anybody is concerned about these matters it is another reason to focus on the deal.”
She claimed delaying Brexit for another referendum would lead to the re-opening of negotiations with the EU, something she said Brussels had ruled out.
But the main reason she was against another referendum, she told MPs, was that it would destroy trust in politics and lead to “more uncertainty and more division in this country”.
Labour seek to change focus of vote
Labour has tabled an amendment to the vote on 11 December calling on MPs to reject Mrs May’s “bad” Brexit deal.
It also calls on MPs to prevent “the chaos of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal” and to “keep all options on the table to protect the UK from a no deal scenario, with a general election as the best outcome for the country”.
Leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Labour will oppose Theresa May’s botched Brexit deal that puts jobs, rights and people’s livelihoods at risk.
“There is a sensible deal that could win the support of Parliament, based on a comprehensive customs union, with a British say in future trade deals, and a strong single market deal that protects rights at work and environmental safeguards and helps us to rebuild our economy and expand our public services.”
If Labour fails to get MPs’ backing for its Brexit proposals or a general election the party has said it will seek support for another referendum.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is to make a statement to MPs on Monday, on his legal advice to the government on its EU withdrawal agreement, ahead of five days of debate on the Brexit deal.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, told MPs: “The binding motion that was passed was for nothing less than the full and final legal advice provided by the attorney general, so it is wholly unacceptable, and frankly shows contempt for this House.”
Corbyn on This Morning sofa
Jeremy Corbyn told ITV’s mid-morning chat show Mrs May would lose 11 December’s vote but “nobody is going to allow no-deal”.
The Labour leader said his focus was on forcing a general election – and he conceded that it might take “some time” for an incoming Labour government to negotiate a fresh Brexit deal with Brussels – possibly up to two years.
He refused to say how he would vote if there was another EU referendum, saying: “It depends what the questions are.”
He had agreed to ITV’s proposal for a TV debate ahead of the Commons vote, he told host Philip Schofield, before Downing Street said Mrs May had agreed to take part in a debate on the BBC.
He also revealed that he had some sympathy for Mrs May because “leadership is a lonely place and that can be difficult”.
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Meanwhile, at the European Parliament
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said Mrs May’s Brexit plan “is the only possible deal”.
He told the European Parliament: “We are not at the end of the process, which is going to go on being difficult.”
He said he would “respect” the democratic debate in the UK, adding that British MPs would be considering a text “where the future of their country is at stake”.
What’s in May’s deal?
- A legally-binding withdrawal agreement guaranteeing citizens’ rights after Brexit, the £39bn “divorce bill”, a 21 month transition period and “backstop” to prevent a hard Irish border if trade talks have not been completed by the end of the transition
- A 26-page “political declaration” setting out ambitions for a free trade deal with the EU and close cooperation in security and defence
MPs grill May on the details
Labour MP Rachael Reeves asked the prime minister whether she agreed with an analysis that the UK would be £100bn worse off over 10 years than it would have been if the UK stayed in the EU.
The prediction was included in a recent study from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
Mrs May said she wanted to emphasise that the analysis did not show Britain being poorer than it was now, and that all analyses showed the economy continuing to grow, albeit at a lower rate.
She added that “being inside the EU is not an option” because “people have voted to leave”.
Conservative MP Julian Lewis, who chairs the defence committee, repeatedly asked the PM under what circumstances a hard Irish border would be erected.
Theresa May said ministers would do “everything in our power” to avoid a hard border, and emphasised that she could not speak for the Irish government.
Conservative MP Andrew Murrison asked if Mrs May’s arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party that keeps her in power was still in place, given that the DUP last week abstained on votes in protest at the EU withdrawal deal.
Mrs May said the confidence and supply agreement with the party “remains in place”.
She added that she had had talks about the DUP’s “concerns”, but expected them to continue to support the government in the long run.
The SNP’s Pete Wishart said Scotland would be worse off under the PM’s proposed Brexit deal and “now is not the time” to “make us poorer”.
Mrs May said her deal has the support of “employers and organisations in Scotland”.
Theresa May warns of efforts to ‘frustrate’ Brexit}