The former cabinet member and Brexit supporter, Theresa Villiers, told the Guardian that it was in the best interests of the EU and the UK to secure a trade deal before the end of negotiations, but admitted it was not guaranteed. “If it isn’t possible, WTO rules would still allow us to do billions of pounds of business in goods and services with the EU,” she said, arguing the option was “by no means disastrous”.
But a source close to a cabinet minister disagreed, saying a number of senior figures were still warning of the impact of not having a deal. Others revealed that senior civil servants were still trying to persuade their political masters to keep open the prospect of a transitional deal, with some suggesting it could take five years after the 2019 Brexit date for a final trade deal to be hammered out.
Some Tory MPs believe that now the Brexit bill has become law, they face a major battle in preventing the government from caving into Eurosceptic backbenchers’ demands to walk away from the negotiating table without a deal.
They are alarmed that the idea of diverting to WTO trading terms is becoming widely talked about, and fear it is the preferred option for hardened Eurosceptics.
Bath MP Ben Howlett said: “Anyone that suggests that WTO would be a good thing is bonkers. This ideological baloney has to stop before we face an absolute disaster.”
Anna Soubry added: “There is nothing to be blase or relaxed about choosing for Britain to trade with our biggest economic partner under WTO rules. Every credible assessment done says this would be the worst trading arrangement possible for jobs, investment and growth.”