Cabinet tensions over the prospect of a no-deal Brexit broke into the open again as the government floated the idea of delaying the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Justice Secretary David Gauke insisted quitting the bloc without an agreement would be “pretty disastrous” after Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said ministers should back Theresa May’s stance of leaving the option on the table.
Mr Gauke also suggested that he backed MPs being given a free vote on some Brexit issues.
Asked if he believed it would be “pretty disastrous” for the UK to leave the EU without a deal, Mr Gauke told the BBC: “Yes, I do.”
Mr Gauke said he would need to “consider his position” if a no-deal policy was adopted when other options were available.
He said: “What I have said repeatedly is if there is a conscious choice ‘right, that’s it, we’re going no deal’ when there are other options available, that would be something I would find extremely difficult.
“And, given the requirements of collective responsibility, then, obviously, I’d have to consider my position.”
Pressed on whether he backed MPs being given a free vote on extending Article 50 when amendments to the government’s Brexit motion are debated in the Commons next Tuesday, Mr Gauke said: “I think there is a case for free votes in this area to resolve things.
“As far as Tuesday is concerned… we need to see what all the amendments are going to be, to see whether Tuesday is a crunch point or not.
“I do think that Parliament is entitled to be involved in this process.
“That we should not be in a position where we, sort of, railroad this through Parliament without Parliament giving its consent.”
The comments came as Mrs Leadsom signalled that the UK could remain in the EU beyond the scheduled March 29 exit date.
The Commons Leader told BBC2’s Newsnight: “We can get the legislation through.
“And in particular I think we do, in spite of everything, have a very strong relationship with our EU friends and neighbours and I’m absolutely certain that if we needed a couple of extra weeks or something, that would be feasible.”
Mrs Leadsom said that with “good will” the necessary legislation could go through Parliament on schedule.