Dominic Raab has suggested the preferred Brexit approach touted by eurosceptic Tories would be a “shortcut to no deal”.
The Brexit Secretary was urged by Steve Baker, a former Brexit minister and member of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, to pursue a free trade agreement with the EU and use “pragmatic arrangements” to deal with the Irish border.
Mr Raab said the Canada-style approach was “theoretically possible” but could not be done and result in a deal with the EU.
He also told MPs that talks with the EU have “intensified” in recent weeks and the two sides are “closing in on workable solutions” to all of the key outstanding issues before urging Brussels to match the UK’s “ambitions” and “pragmatism”.
Labour accused Mr Raab of “pretending that everything is going according to plan” and urged him to “scotch rumours” that the Government is not intending to publish an Irish border backstop proposal by next week, before questioning if an “indefinite UK-wide customs union” would be part of the offer.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer also asked Mr Raab to rule out a “vague or blind Brexit”, adding: “No government has the right to plunge the country into chaos as a result of its own failure.
“Time is running out but there is still time to change course and I urge the Secretary of State to do so.”
Mr Raab ruled out a “blindfolded Brexit” in which MPs would be kept in the dark over the detail of a deal, and also “categorically” ruled out an indefinite customs union to resolve Irish border difficulties in the Brexit talks.
Conservative former home secretary Amber Rudd criticised the “gung-ho approach” to no deal as she warned that security matters are not yet in place to keep the UK safe in such an event.
Later, Mr Baker told the Commons: “Time and again customs experts from a range of countries in the EU including Holland and Ireland tell us that a free trade agreement can be made to work across the Irish border using pragmatic arrangements.
“When will the Government take this key that has been handed to them, keeping us in the prison of this negotiation, and admit that we can leave into an FTA basis which will make this a proper independent country able to control its domestic regulations as well as its tariffs so that we can lead the world into a new era of free trade.”
Mr Raab replied that his suggestion was a “shortcut to no deal”.
He replied that “whilst it may be theoretically possible for us to do that, we cannot do it and have a deal with the EU”.
Mr Raab went on: “The EU are not offering us Canada, super Canada, an FTA without keeping to the commitment that we made when he was in Government in December to come up with a legally binding backstop, so that is a shortcut to no deal and we’ve always said that we’d be ready if that outcome is forced on us, but the optimum aim here, the optimum objective that we’re working towards is a good deal with the EU.
“We couldn’t get that if we pursued what he’s suggesting.”
When asked by Labour former minister Chris Leslie if he was ruling out a blind Brexit, Mr Raab said: “First of all there’s no question of some kind of blindfolded Brexit.”
He added: “We want to make sure in the political declaration on the future relationship that we have enough detail and enough of substance so that this House and the country at large can understand the choice of the model of economic and security cooperation that we’re going to be pursuing.”
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said his MPs “would not tolerate” any separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and threatened to withdraw support as they did last December.
He said: “The idea that the sort of proposals that are floating about from the EU side, and indeed some officials on our side in Brussels, are necessary to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland is of course complete rubbish.
“There already is infrastructure on the border and there are already financial, fiscal and other differences because it’s an international border.
“Of course it can be managed.
“He needs to understand that as far as we’re concerned, as the Democratic Unionist Party, we will not tolerate anything that separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK in terms of customs or single market as we leave the EU.
“We’ve been clear about that from day one.
“It’s why we had the debacle in December. Let’s not repeat that mistake.”