Brexit chief says deal with EU expected, but lists benefits of no-deal outcome
Britain has received a wide range of positive and constructive feedback about its proposals for a post-Brexit trade deal from a number of European Union (EU) countries, the House of Commons was told Tuesday.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab gave an update on the government's Brexit negotiations to MPs on their first day at Westminster after the summer recess.
Raab said he, along with Prime Minister Theresa May and other senior ministers have made visits across Europe, explaining Britain's Brexit proposals and making the case for what the government has put forward for a future relationship with the EU after next March.
Since the publication of the government paper detailing the government's proposals, the so-called Chequers plan unveiled by May, British ministers have had more than 60 ministerial engagements with their counterparts across Europe, said Raab.
Raab said he and the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, have injected additional pace and intensity into the negotiations, as the final phases are reached.
"The vast majority of the withdrawal agreement has been agreed," Raab told MPs, adding that when it is signed it the will safeguard the rights of EU citizens in Britain and British nationals in the EU so they can continue to live their lives broadly as they do now.
"It will allow for the UK to make an orderly and smooth transition as we move towards a future deep and special partnership with the EU," said Raab.
Raab said the government is committed to delivering a future relationship that will see Britain leave the European Single Market and the Customs Union.
On the yet to be decided issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the neighboring Irish Republic, Raab said the British government has made clear the EU proposals are unacceptable, because they would create a customs border down the Irish Sea.
"We are determined to reach a solution that protects the Belfast Agreement and avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland," he added.
The Belfast Agreement restored peace to Northern Ireland after several decades of troubles, and a frictionless border is seen on the island of Ireland as a crucial element of the peace agreement.
Raab concluded by saying Britain has presented its proposals in a spirit of compromise, adding: "So too they have proved challenging in some respects for some in the EU. But, our friends across Europe are engaging seriously with our proposals on the substance."
Raab also updated MPs on steps the government has taken over the summer months to prepare for the unlikely event that a deal with the EU is not reached.
"While we expect to reach a deal with the EU, while it remains the most likely outcome, and whilst it remains our top and indeed our overriding priority, as a responsible government, we have a duty to prepare for any eventuality," Raab said.
He added: "Our approach acknowledges that there are some risks to a 'no deal' scenario, and demonstrates that we are taking the action to avoid, to minimise and to mitigate these potential risks so we are equipped to manage any short-term disruption."
Raab added that a no-deal scenario would bring some countervailing opportunities, such as Britain's ability to lower tariffs and bring into effect new free trade deals, straight away. It would also bring a swifter end to the payments, running into billions of dollars a year, which Britain contributes to the EU.
"British people can rest assured, that the UK will be ready for Brexit -- deal or no deal -- and prepared, whatever the outcome, so this country will go from strength to strength," he concluded.
Raab's statement was attacked by Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the main opposition Labor Party.
He said the statement would reassure nobody, dismissing May's Chequers Brexit blueprint as a fudge. Starmer also said there were huge gaps in the government's plans for a no deal outcome, particularly on the fate of the Irish border.
The GMB trade union, one of the biggest in Britain with 620,000 members, on Tuesday announced it had called for a public vote on a final Brexit deal. Political commentators say the union's move will increase pressure on the main opposition Labor party to also back a public vote.