LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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Following interventions from Conservative MPs Iain Duncan-Smith and James Duddridge, a letter has been delivered to Theresa May calling on the Prime Minister to begin preparations for a No Deal scenario if the EU refuses to progress negotiations to trade and a future relationship later this week.

The letter, organised by Leave Means Leave, has been signed by a number of prominent public figures including John Redwood, Major-General Julian Thompson, Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin, and former Chancellor Nigel Lawson.

They suggest that “we should formally declare that we are assuming that we will be subject to WTO rules from 30th March 2019” if the EU refuses to budge after a summit later this week. “No deal on trade is better than a deal which locks the UK into the European regulatory system and take opportunities off the table”.

A No Deal is looking more likely than ever, with diplomatic sources revealing that EU leaders plan to rebuff calls to move talks onto trade. One source claims that “there are ways to say it kindly and encouragingly or less kindly and less encouraging”, highlighting concerns on the continent that too tough a line could damage Mrs May’s domestic credibility further and cause more dysfunction in the Brexit process.

Mrs May meanwhile will take the floor tonight to repeat offers made in her Florence speech. Downing Street claim that “she will urge fellow leaders to focus on the shared opportunities and challenges ahead and encourage them to move the conversation on to focus on the future partnership and implementation period so that they are ready to engage in that discussion as soon as possible”. But if the Florence speech failed to move European leaders to mutually beneficial talks when she first made it, merely repeating its contents at a summit seems hopeless now.

Some had expected European leaders to use this summit to grant a mandate to negotiator Michel Barnier, allowing him to move Brexit talks onto a productive conversation about the future trade relationship between the EU and an independent United Kingdom, but others remained sceptical given Mr Barnier’s obsessive focus on squeezing money out of the British taxpayer during the first phase of talks.

That scepticism caused a debate within the Conservative party, with Amber Rudd calling a No Deal scenario “unthinkable” while James Duddridge replied that “far from being unthinkable, a no deal would be my preferred [choice]”. Last night’s letter will apply further pressure to the Prime Minister, echoing calls by former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King to prepare for WTO rules, while stubborn moves made by European leaders at the upcoming summit will further embarrass naïve Remainers Hammond and Rudd in the cabinet.