ON THE second anniversary of Britain voting to leave the EU, the Prime Minister has been urged to get tough on Brussels and threaten to withdraw our divorce bill money without a decent trade deal.
Urging her to take an “assertive” approach at this week’s EU Council meeting, high-profile figures including former chancellor Nigel Lawson, hotelier Sir Rocco Forte and a host of MPs and peers, say the UK must reserve the right to walk away without a trade deal – and take our £39billion with us.
They also advise Mrs May to step up preparations for a “no deal” in order to give Britain “real leverage in the Brexit endgame”.
It comes after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned against a “soft, yielding and seemingly infinitely long bog roll Brexit” and Brexit Secretary David Davis vowed that the “hard work won’t stop” to ensure Britain fulfils its “free trade destiny”.
The letter, organised by Economists for Free Trade is backed by more than 20 Conservative MPs and lords, including four former Cabinet ministers.
It accuses EU negotiators of intransigence in the Brexit talks and calls on Mrs May to strengthen her negotiating hand by accelerating UK nodeal preparations.
Such a step would mean Britain is ready to walk away from the table if the EU continues to frustrate efforts to secure a free trade agreement, and operate on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms instead.
The letter is signed by more than 20 senior pro-Brexit politicians, including ex-cabinet ministers Owen Paterson, David Jones and John Redwood. Other signatories include Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin, JML’s John Mills and John Longworth, former director general of the British Chambers of Commerce.
The letter advises the Prime Minister that “to have any real leverage in the Brexit endgame, the UK must reserve the right to walk away without a trade deal and take with it the £39billion it has offered to pay as part of a divorce settlement. This money must be contingent on our securing a ‘UK economy is in rude health’ satisfactory free trade deal. No trade deal, no money.
“In spite of the doom-mongers, the UK economy is in rude health. The world is desperate for the UK to once again take up leadership for global free trade and deals are on offer from our major trading partners.”
The letter attacks relentlessly “gloomy and erroneous” predictions by Whitehall economists and the Civil Service and sets out why the UK has nothing to fear from a so-called “World Trade Deal”.
It adds: “Our analysis, in contrast to the gloomy and erroneous forecasts produced by the Civil Service Cross-Whitehall report, is that the UK would be £140billion better off over the next 15 years under a World Trade Deal governed by WTO rules.
“The gains stem from a fall in prices after scrapping the EU tariff barriers against the rest of the world, higher exports, an end to our annual £10billion net subscription to the EU, reduced red tape and an end to taxpayer subsidies to unskilled migrants from the EU.”
The letter argues that a World Trade Deal “would give the Chancellor ample scope to increase spending on priority public services such as the NHS while reducing the too high UK tax burden”.
Last night, leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who chairs the European Research Group of Tory MPs, said Brussels had more to fear from a nodeal Brexit than Britain because we import £60billion more goods from the EU than we export.
“The passing of the EU Withdrawal Bill last week means the legal building blocks for leaving the EU are now in place,” he said. “The default position is that we leave on March 29, 2019, therefore the Government’s negotiating position for a good deal has been considerably strengthened.
Mr Rees-Mogg added that £39billion “should buy us a good trade deal and if it doesn’t, we won’t give them any money”.
A Downing Street aide agreed, saying: “Brexit is an unstoppable force now the EU Withdrawal Bill is on the statute book.”
The Bill, which repeals the 1972 European Communities Act and copies all existing EU legislation into domestic law, is expected to receive Royal Assent on Tuesday.
Last week, Mrs May hailed the passing of the Bill as “an important step in delivering the Brexit people voted for, a Brexit that gives Britain a brighter future, a Britain in control of its money, laws, and borders”.
The Government won the vote 319-303 after would-be rebels accepted assurances of a meaningful say. Both sides claimed victory but Brexiteers insist it has actually strengthened their hand by leaving the no-deal option firmly on the table.
If MPs do not think there is a good enough trade agreement they will vote it down and Britain will leave the EU without a deal.
Insiders say Tory Remainers are in “disarray” after former attorney general Dominic Grieve, who led the rebellion, backed down at the last minute and failed to vote for his own “meaningful” amendment.
A source said: “It’s going to be hard for Grieve to lead another ‘follow me over the barricades’ movement when he couldn’t even support his own amendment.
“It seems that when push comes to shove, some of these wannabe rebel Tories have looked into the whites of their associations’ eyes and realised they don’t want to be the ones to usher in a Corbyn government.”
And it emerged even arch-Remainer, Chancellor Philip Hammond, had delivered a surprisingly upbeat speech about the opportunities at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting – leaving Brexiteers open-mouthed.
Mrs May is expected to summon Cabinet ministers to an awayday at Chequers on Friday, where they will thrash out an agreement on our future customs arrangements with the EU before the White Paper is published in the first week of July.
To read the Sunday Express’s write up in full, click here.