Brexit secretary warns no-deal preparations must be sped up

Sophy Ridge, Sky presenter and Alan McGuinness, political reporter

Preparations for a no-deal Brexit should be brought forward "at pace" if MPs do not back the prime minister's deal, the Brexit secretary has warned.

The comments are likely to reignite the debate about whether the government should be prepared to take the UK out of the European Union with no-deal if - as expected - MPs fail to back the withdrawal agreement when it returns to the House of Commons in June.

Stephen Barclay told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "Members of Parliament do need to face facts, and if the deal were not to go through then there are only two alternatives - you either leave with a no-deal or you revoke.

"If parliament won't back a deal, I do think we need to bring forward our preparations to mitigate no-deal, because we will need to use the additional time we have, and we need to move at pace to do so."

The Brexit secretary was speaking on a visit to Quinn Industrial Holdings, a cement manufacturer with sites that straddle the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Lorries and employees at the firm are estimated to make more than 900 border crossings every day.

Asked whether the government has taken preparations for no-deal seriously enough, Mr Barclay said: "We need to do more and use the additional time that we have to prepare further.

"There is no guarantee that the EU27 will grant an extension, that isn't a UK decision on 31 October, so we do need to prepare for a no-deal and ensure that we use the time to prepare to mitigate any disruption as best we can."

Parliament has repeatedly blocked the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

However, with the Brexit Party topping the polls ahead of the European elections and Conservative MPs jostling for position ahead of a leadership contest, some Eurosceptics believe no-deal should be back on the table.

The Conservative MP Steve Baker told Sky News: "The rise of the Brexit Party is starting to look like an earthquake which has passed by those of us in the Westminster bubble.

"I will be voting Conservative in the European elections, but I'm increasingly finding my supporters are struggling to support us."

But two ministers sounded a downbeat note about the prospect of no deal and its implications.

Defence minister Tobias Ellwood told Sky News such an outcome is "not a destination" and "not where you want to end".

He said: "A bit like a divorce, you can run out the building if you like and say I want to leave my other half, but actually there's more to it than that.

"Where's the money going to go, who's going to get the house, the cat, if you've got children you've got a responsibility and an ongoing relationship to discuss and that's exactly what we have with the European Union as well.

"So defaulting to WTO terms, they've made a case for that too but that isn't Premier League, if you want to do a football analogy, that's likening us and your camera crew going outside onto the grass and using our football bags as the goalposts."

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, who has said he will stand to replace Theresa May, told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that he would take no deal "off the table" if he became leader.

"I would want to go to Parliament and say we are taking no-deal off the table and we are taking a second referendum and Remain off the table.

"I want those 650 MPs locked in a room talking about what practical Brexit deal they want."

Amid the ongoing Brexit impasse, Mrs May has promised to set out a timetable for her departure in the coming weeks.

This has sparked a frenzy of speculation about who could succeed her, with a number of Tories throwing their hat into the ring.

When asked four times if he would be one of them, Mr Barclay did not dismiss the prospect.

"The good thing about my job is I have so much to do that I don't need to be posing in kitchens and doing things," he said, adding that his focus was on "getting the deal over the line".

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has emerged as the front-runner among the Tory grassroots.

Asked if the Brexit campaigner would make a good leader, Mr Barclay replied: "All of my colleagues have talents. It will be for others to weigh up which of those takes primacy."