Cabinet divisions over a no-deal exit from the EU have broken to the surface again as Prime Minister Theresa May faces a major Commons clash on the issue.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds insisted he could not envisage a no-deal Brexit being Government policy.
The comments came after Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom branded attempts by MPs to kill no deal as an option, through a series of Commons amendments on Tuesday, as a “thinly veiled attempt to stop Brexit”.
Mr Hinds told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I don’t envisage no deal becoming Government policy.
“We want to avoid a no deal. No deal would not be a good outcome.”
Mr Hinds insisted there were advantages to the controversial backstop proposals intended to avoid a hard border in Ireland by getting the UK to obey EU customs rules if no wider trade deal is agreed after a transition period.
The Education Secretary said: “There are multiple reasons to believe the backstop would never come into place.
“And, even if it did, actually there are some advantages to the backstop as well as drawbacks.”
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the EU was committed to a backstop.
He told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “The European Parliament will not ratify a Withdrawal Agreement that doesn’t have a backstop in it. It’s as simple as that.
“The backstop is already a compromise. It is a series of compromises. It was designed around British red lines.
“Ireland has the same position as the European Union now, I think, when we say that the backstop as part of the Withdrawal Agreement is part of a balanced package that isn’t going to change.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock denied Mr Coveney’s comments meant Mrs May’s Brexit deal was “dead in the water”.
“Not at all,” said Mr Hancock. “That’s a negotiating position the Irish are taking, but I think it’s also extremely clear from that interview and the tone… Ireland doesn’t want to have a no-deal Brexit.
“The whole purpose of the backstop is to avoid a hard border, which risks being a consequence of a no-deal Brexit.
“The idea the EU and the Irish Government would drive this process to a no-deal exit in order to try to achieve something which is intended to avoid no-deal Brexit, that is not going to happen.”
However, Brexiteer Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns said she wanted the PM to abandon the backstop, telling Sky News: “I’d like to see her bin the backstop. I think we need to bin it completely.”
The comments came as it emerged preparations are being looked at for the possible imposition of martial law after a no-deal Brexit.
The move has been described by sources as the civil service “prepping” for all possibilities.
Mr Hancock denied the Government was “specifically” planning for martial law but did not rule it out.
“I wouldn’t put a stress on that,” he said. “Of course Government all the time looks at all the options in all circumstances.”
He also distanced himself from leaked comments in November claiming he had said he could not guarantee patients would not die in a no-deal scenario.
“I didn’t quite say that,” he said. “Cabinet discussions are meant to be secret.”
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said she was not in favour of a second referendum, but would vote Remain if one was held.
Ms Rayner told Sky News: “I would probably vote Remain and the reason is I’ve seen over the last 2.5 years all the analysis we have got at the moment.”
When asked if Labour would back Yvette Cooper’s Brexit amendment which seeks to stop a no deal and extend Article 50, Ms Rayner said: “Labour will do whatever it takes to avoid a no-deal Brexit, so if that’s the only option we have it’s something we will seriously consider.
“Let me be as clear as I possibly can be for the people that are listening to this programme – we’ve put our amendment down, we’ve said we respected the result of the referendum, we want to find a deal, we want a customs union, we want protection for environment, consumer, employment. We’ve said that all along.
“Theresa May will not budge on her red lines, she’s forcing us and trying to bully us into a no-deal scenario.
“We will do whatever it takes, through Parliament, to stop that no-deal scenario from happening. If that means backing an amendment, then we will do that.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s Commons showdown, defence minister Tobias Ellwood broke ranks and insisted a no-deal scenario must be ruled out.
Despite Mrs May refusing to take the prospect of no deal off the table, Mr Ellwood wrote in the Sunday Times: “It is now time to rule out the very possibility of no deal.
“It is wrong for Government and business to invest any more time and money in a no-deal outcome which will make us poorer, weaker and smaller in the eyes of the world.”
In other measures, the Government is seeking to extend working hours for MPs to get Brexit legislation through the Commons before the scheduled EU withdrawal date of March 29.
Parliament’s February break looks set to be scrapped and sitting days extended by starting earlier and finishing later than usual.