A senior minister has edged close to ruling out Britain leaving the EU without a deal, predicting such a scenario will never become “government policy”.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds told Sky News he “didn’t envisage” ministers signing up to the plan, but that it had to remain an option to stop MPs thwarting Brexit.
The UK is due to leave the EU by default on 29 March 2019.
Speaking in the run up to another crunch week in the countdown to Brexit, Mr Hinds refused to say whether he would resign if the cabinet set itself on course for a no-deal divorce.
“I don’t envisage no-deal becoming government policy,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
“We want to avoid a no-deal.
“No deal would not be a good outcome but it doesn’t have to be the outcome.
“If you say – therefore – take no-deal off the table, you can’t just take a negative away, you have to replace it with something.”
In comments likely to rile Brexiteers, Mr Hinds also called the Irish backstop an “integral part” of the Brexit deal.
That is the insurance policy to prevent a hard border reforming on the island of Ireland if a trade deal is not struck.
It is the main concern of hardline Eurosceptic MPs who voted in droves against the withdrawal agreement in December.
Some are trying to change the deal to make the backstop time-limited, given the UK has no unilateral right to pull out of it.
But Ireland’s Europe minister appeared to rule that out in an interview with Sky News.
Helen McEntee said: “If it becomes time-limited… it ceases to be what it is supposed to be”.
Senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper also said she “hoped” leader Jeremy Corbyn would back her bid to get time to vote on a new law to delay Brexit if there is no deal ratified by the end of February.
“I do know that there are a lot of Tory ministers deeply concerned about no-deal,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
MPs will vote on Tuesday on a series of amendments to a motion setting out the government’s Brexit plan B, given the original defeat last month.
Exactly which ones are chosen will not be known until Speaker John Bercow announces them on the day.