Taking no-deal Brexit off the table would be a disastrous betrayal of referendum

MPs rightly rejected the worst deal in history last night. This deal would have broken up our precious Union with Northern Ireland and flown in the face of the Good Friday Agreement by enslaving the country in a never-ending backstop. 

It would have locked the UK into an EU Customs Union indefinitely, with no say over the rules and no ability to strike new trade deals. 

Above all, the deal would have prevented the UK from pursuing any legal unilateral exit in the future. It would have been Brexit in name only – putting the UK in a straitjacket while handing the EU the key to the padlock.

Thankfully, the Prime Minister’s woeful deal is dead. But MPs will show themselves to be the worst negotiators in the world if they commit the cardinal sin of not being prepared to walk away.

 Today, they have the opportunity to vote to keep no-deal on the table and maintain the UK’s negotiating leverage. Without the threat of this outcome, the negotiations would be over.

After all, why should the EU lift a finger if MPs continually wreck their own negotiating strategy? I would not be surprised if the EU put a condition on leaving once no-deal is off the table of “remaining inside the EU”.

An exit on World Trade Organisation terms (so-called “no-deal Brexit”) is currently the only legal certainty. MPs should be hugely optimistic about a WTO Brexit, which would provide a huge business boost by creating certainty and removing daft EU rules, and restore trust in politics by honouring the result of the 2016 referendum. 

MPs should be confident in going for this outcome on 29 March. The mood of the country is increasingly “Let’s Go WTO”, which is why Leave Means Leave’s March to Leave has proven so popular.  A YouGov poll yesterday revealed that 63 per cent of Tory voters – and 37 per cent of the public – favour no-deal compared to just 17 per cent who wish to delay Brexit. 

Domestic businesses I talk to up and down the country are quite happy with a WTO Brexit. Only 10 per cent of British businesses actually export to the EU and any successful business can quickly adapt. 

The other 90 per cent want to be rid of cumbersome EU rules and regulations and want the UK to sign free trade deals with countries around the world so they can take advantage of the 90 per cent of global growth which is happening outside the EU. 

A WTO Brexit also gives the UK the biggest possible negotiating leverage to get the best result from future relationship talks with the EU, setting us up for a brighter, more prosperous future.

Should MPs reject the motion today, they will then have a chance to vote on whether to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50.  An extension would come at a huge price, both to businesses who would endure yet more uncertainty and to our politicians, who would lose any remaining semblance of public trust. The divorce bill could increase or even double to £80bn.

In exchange for a delay, the EU might well ask for increased powers in our affairs. More broadly, failing to leave on 29 March would signal a serious failure in our democracy and likely compel people to take to the streets demanding change.

If MPs lack the courage of voters and domestic businesses, and do not believe in Britain’s ability to work hard and prosper, the logical alternative is the Malthouse Compromise. Today, MPs will have the opportunity to vote for this ready-to-go Plan B, which has been endorsed by MPs from Jacob Rees-Mogg to Nicky Morgan. 

This compromise would create a transitional standstill period lasting two years, during which the UK and EU agree heads of terms for WTO exit under GATT Article 24, alongside important future relationship discussions.

While the UK would remain a member of the Customs Union and Single Market during this period, we would be leaving on WTO terms once the transition period ended. This option, while suboptimal, will at least provide certainty and set a clear plan for the UK to leave on no-deal terms.

Whatever happens, the Prime Minister must step down the moment we have left the EU. Mrs May is a tenacious but stubborn leader who has always been unwilling to listen and never really believed in what she said over the past two years. 

She has created a shambolic negotiating team, which she refused to fire after they recommended the worst deal in history against the national interest, and overseen the gradual betrayal of a policy with the biggest democratic mandate in history.

But if she votes against a no-deal she should resign immediately. She has constantly said “no deal is better than a bad deal” and Parliament has twice declared that her deal is a bad deal. 

While the votes today are merely symbolic (the wording of the motion means that MPs voting against no-deal also acknowledge that it remains the only legal certainty), we cannot have a PM that says one thing and does another. 

The Conservatives must promote a visionary new leader who believes in Brexit and will establish a professional negotiating team comprised of experienced government negotiators and business people.

Above all, MPs must not get bogged down in Parliamentary procedures and lose sight of the true meaning of Brexit. Our decision to leave was about taking back control of our country’s future. This means returning law-making, tax-raising and tariff-setting powers back to a sovereign UK Parliament.

It means regaining a clear voice in international groups, rekindling strong relationships with countries around the world and standing up for British values on the global stage. None of this will be possible without the no-deal option remaining in play.