By Ned Simons
A no-deal Brexit would be “an absolute disaster”, Theresa May has been warned by a member of her government.
Richard Harrington, a business minister, demanded on Monday the prime minister “rule out” leaving the EU without an agreement.
“I’ve seen what may well happen with this cut-off date, crashing out in my view is an absolute disaster,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.
“It’s not a road to a free trade agreement, it’s not a road to anything. It’s an absolute disaster for the country and it’s supported by a minority of a minority of people.”
He also said he was “afraid” of Jaguar and Mini closing in the event of no-deal.
Time is running out for parliament to agree what sort of Brexit it wants, with no current option appearing to command a majority.
May is due to face MPs on Monday afternoon to update them on how the government will proceed.
Last week MPs overwhelmingly voted down the deal May agreed with Brussels.
The PM briefed the cabinet in a conference call on Sunday about her first round of cross-party contacts last week.
But there is little expectation she is ready to offer concessions that could win over Labour MPs.
Instead, reports suggested she was preparing to press for changes to the Northern Ireland backstop in the hope she can win round Tory Brexiteers and her allies in the DUP, who voted against her original deal.
The Daily Telegraph reported she was even considering trying to amend the Good Friday Agreement – although the paper quoted senior sources as saying the idea was a “non-starter”.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney was adamant over the weekend the backstop – intended to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic – was an essential part of the Withdrawal Agreement.
However there were signs some Brexiteers could reluctantly back May’s deal amid concerns a cross-party grouping of MPs are plotting to impose a “softer” Brexit – or derail it altogether.
Writing in The Mail on Sunday, leading Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “Even Mrs May’s deal would be better than not leaving at all.”
There was anger among pro-Leave MPs at moves to enable backbenchers to take control of the Commons business from the government – in breach of normal conventions – through a series of amendments.
One group, including senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper and Tory former minister Nick Boles, is seeking to give time for a bill to suspend the Article 50 withdrawal process if there is no new deal with Brussels by the end of February.
Another more radical amendment drawn up by former Tory attorney general Dominic Grieve would allow a motion by a minority of 300 MPs – from at least five parties and including 10 Tories – to be debated as the first item of Commons business the next day.
Grieve said it would enable the Commons to stage a series of “indicative votes” on the various alternatives, such as a “soft” Norway-style deal or a second referendum to establish which could command a majority.
He denied claims he was seeking to prevent Britain leaving the EU after International Trade Secretary Liam Fox accused pro-Remain MPs of trying to “hijack” the 2016 referendum vote.
May is expected to use her statement to explain how she intends to proceed in the run up to the vote on January 29, rather than setting out a detailed “Plan B”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hit out at the prime minister for stymieing attempts to find a cross-party consensus through her refusal to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
“May’s no-deal threat is empty and hugely expensive, wasting billions of pounds we should be spending on vital public services,” he said.
“It’s a pointless and damaging attempt to appease a faction in her own party when she now needs to reach out to overcome this crisis.
“If the prime minister is serious about finding a solution that can command support in Parliament and bring our country together, she must listen to the majority of MPs, as well as members of her own cabinet, and take no-deal off the table.”