A Cabinet minister has warned against delaying a Brexit deal until the last minute, stressing that businesses need certainty that they will avoid the “disaster” of a no-deal scenario.
Business Secretary Greg Clark acknowledged the current lack of clarity about the trading arrangements that will apply by the end of next month was “unacceptable”.
Meanwhile one of Mr Clark’s junior ministers suggested that MPs might vote to delay Brexit rather than allow the UK to crash out of the European Union without a deal.
Addressing manufacturers’ organisation Make UK, formerly known as EEF, Mr Clark stressed the importance of securing a deal, insisting warnings about the potential economic harm of leaving on March 29 without an agreement was Project Reality rather than Project Fear.
Mr Clark also confirmed that EU trade deals with South Korea and Japan were unlikely to be replicated by the time of the UK’s departure on March 29, underlining why it was an “absolute requirement” to secure agreement with Brussels and a transition period.
In his speech in London, Mr Clark said: “A situation in which our manufacturers don’t have the certainty that they need about the terms under which over two-thirds of our trade will be conducted in less than 40 days time is unacceptable.
“It needs to be brought to a conclusion and without further delay.”
Theresa May has faced accusations from Labour she is running down the clock in an attempt to force MPs into a last-minute ultimatum to back her Withdrawal Agreement or accept a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Clark warned against brinkmanship, pointing out that vessels were at sea today without knowing the arrangements that would apply on their cargoes when they reach their destinations.
“That is, I know, unacceptable to you and it is unacceptable to me.
“For me it shows how absolutely essential it is to conclude the arrangements with a deal in the weeks to come, not on the last minute on March 28, but as soon as possible.
“Because no one should regard waiting to the last moment, when you are making decisions now that have consequences for many weeks and months ahead, as acceptable.”
Also at the conference, Business Minister Richard Harrington said he believed Parliament would step in to prevent a no-deal Brexit through a “small extension” of Article 50.