Brexit: Dominic Raab says Canada-style trade deal is 'off the table'

Ashley Cowburn

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has risked a row with Conservative rebels after saying the idea of a Canada-style trade deal is “off the table”.

The cabinet minister said such an approach advocated by some prominent Brexiteers “can’t be right” because the European Union would demand unacceptable conditions on Ireland.

It comes the day before Leave rebels are set to publish their alternative plans for Brexit, suggesting a “Canada-plus-plus-plus” free trade arrangement.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Raab also said that an autumn election – which the prime minister's aides were rumoured on Sunday to being planning – was “for the birds”.

Asked to rule out the possibility of a Canada-style agreement, he said: “We all want a free trade deal. The question is the terms. And if what you’re referring to is the Ceta-plus or plus-plus arrangement which is being bandied around, I think people need to read the small print, not just of our proposals, but the EU’s proposals.

“Because what they’re suggesting is not just a free trade but for us to stay locked in or for Northern Ireland specifically to stay locked into the customs union.

“Now that would be a clear carve up of the United Kingdom in economic terms.”

He continued: “It’s off the table in the terms that the EU would even plausibly at this stage would at least accept the nuts and bolts.

“What they are suggesting is that we would stay in a backstop arrangement with Northern Ireland which would be a part of the United Kingdom, subject to a wholly different economic machine. That can’t be right.”

He said the government would continue negotiating with Brussels on the basis of the prime minister’s Chequers proposals, and described the impasse in the negotiations as a “bump in the road”.

“We will hold our nerve,” he added. “We will keep our cool and we will keep negotiating in good faith. What we are not going to do is be dictated to. The UK is one of the biggest economies in Europe, if not the world.”

On Saturday, Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, refused to dismiss the possibility of Canada-style trade agreement, but added: “We have been very clear that we are prepared to negotiate on the Chequers proposal but we can’t talk to a void – we have to have a counter party that’s prepared to sit down and go through the detail.”

The deal agreed between Canada and the EU covers free trade but is significantly less comprehensive than the arrangement Britain is seeking with the EU.

A Canada-style deal is favoured by some Brexiteers because it would not keep Britain so closely aligned with the EU.

Mr Raab’s remarks came as he also revealed the government would publish its third tranche of no-deal documents on Monday, detailing the Brexit department’s preparations for various parts of the economy.