Britain will not seek further talks with the European Union if parliament rejects the exit deal it reaches, the government said on Tuesday, as ministers defeated attempts to give lawmakers more say on the terms of the final agreement.
The statement, which echoes Prime Minister Theresa May’s stance that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain” came as parliament debated a law that would give her the power to begin exit negotiations with the EU.
Last month, May promised to ask parliament to approve the final exit terms in 2019, but said that even if it rejected the deal, Britain would leave the EU.
That has raised concern among some lawmakers that their vote would be purely symbolic and they would be unable to force May back to the EU negotiating table to avoid a so-called ‘hard Brexit‘.
Asked whether the government would reopen negotiations if parliament rejected the deal, junior Brexit minister David Jones said: “I can’t think of a greater signal of weakness than for this House to send the government back to the European Union and to say we want to negotiate further … therefore I can’t agree with it.”
Jones also confirmed that if Britain and the EU could not come to a Brexit deal within the two-year timeframe allowed under Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, Britain would ultimately fall back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms of trade.
Opposition lawmakers want to use the bill going through parliament as a way to attach extra conditions to May’s plan to trigger Brexit talks by March 31.
The closest vote to date saw seven Conservative lawmakers defy the wishes of their leader and join forces with rival parties to demand a more meaningful vote on the exit terms, but the government won by 326 votes to 293.
There will be further debate on Wednesday with a final vote before the legislation passes to the upper chamber for approval.
Any large-scale rebellion would undermine May, and ministers fear extra conditions could weaken the UK’s negotiating hand,
Seeking to address concerns about how much say lawmakers will have, Jones told MPs that their approval for the final exit deal would be sought before the European parliament debates and votes on the agreement.
Whilst this placated some potential Conservative rebels, others were left unimpressed when it emerged they would not be able to force the government back to the negotiating table.
“If at the end of the day there is no deal, and we are forced to leave on what might be World Trade Organisation terms – which many of us believe would be deeply damaging – then it would be a scandal if this house did not have a chance to have a say in it,” said Conservative MP Bob Neill.
“The government is on very borrowed time, as far as many of us are concerned.”