Crashing out of the European Union without a deal would have a “very adverse effect” on the UK’s economy, security and union with Northern Ireland, a Cabinet minister has warned.
David Gauke suggested he would back an extension to Article 50 if a deal between the UK and EU was not reached, and said he expected the Government to act “responsibly” if the current deadlock prevailed.
And the Justice Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he hoped it would be made clear in the next 10 days that the UK is in a position to leave with a deal on March 29.
But he said: “If not, then we will have to, in my view, act responsibly and make sure that this country, the economy is protected, our security is protected and the integrity of the Union is protected.
“I have very grave concerns about the consequences of leaving without a deal.”
Mr Gauke added: “I think the idea of leaving without a deal on the 29th March would be one that would have a very adverse effect, to put it mildly, on our economy, on our security and on the integrity of the Union and I think my position on that is very clear.”
He has previously suggested that Brexit might have to be delayed beyond the scheduled exit date.
Mr Gauke said he hoped a deal would have been reached by the next round of Commons votes on February 27, which has been described as a “high noon” moment for the future of Brexit.
“I would hope and expect that the Government would act responsibly and consider the situation. I hope that by the time we get to that point that there will have been a deal reached with the European Union and the House of Commons.
“If not, I think my position is very clear and I think the consequences of leaving without a deal would not be in the national interest.”
Business Minister Richard Harrington said he did not believe Theresa May would pursue a no-deal Brexit.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Week In Westminster: “I actually think, when it comes to it, she will know the disaster that a hard Brexit would be for the British economy and I don’t think she’ll do it.
“No Government can stand by and watch a country plummet earthwards because of a political dogma of a minority of a minority, which is what the ERG are and the people that are pressuring on that end.”
Mr Harrington also said he would back moves to give Parliament the power to take no-deal off the table at the end of the month if it seemed likely the UK would crash out of the EU, and could resign if necessary to back the amendment.
And he warned: “There are a significant number of us who feel the same and I think the Chief Whip and the Prime Minister should know that. We don’t make the noise of the ERG but that doesn’t mean quietly that we’re not there.”
Tory former chancellor George Osborne urged Mrs May to take the “threat” of a no-deal Brexit off the table.
He said keeping the option open was “totally unrealistic”, telling the programme: “I also think it’s extremely damaging to our economy at the moment because it’s forcing all sorts of companies around the world to put into action their contingency plans.”
Meanwhile, the Times reported that female MPs have been forced to move house and hire bodyguards because of tensions over Brexit.
The newspaper said one female parliamentarian was advised by police not to travel alone at night, while another was told not to drive herself and a third was warned against running in her local park.
A number of cross-party MPs have reported experiencing abuse in recent weeks.
Among them was pro-EU Conservative MP Anna Soubry, who was called a “Nazi” by pro-Brexit protesters as she was interviewed outside Parliament last month.
Meanwhile, the Government has stepped up its information campaign on Brexit preparations.
On Saturday, the Government began running a series of adverts in local and national newspapers and websites as part of a campaign to explain what leaving the EU will mean for citizens and businesses.