Gauke Suggests a Managed No-Deal Brexit Is ‘Magical Thinking’

(Bloomberg) -- Justice Secretary David Gauke suggested that a so-called managed no-deal Brexit is “magical thinking,” and hinted he’d quit U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet if she opted to crash out of the European Union without an agreement in March.

Gauke confirmed in an interview with the BBC on Friday he’d told Cabinet this week ministers should “slay unicorns,” referring to a managed no-deal Brexit. He defined it as “an idea that there is a deal there, or there is a route forward that is just based on a degree of magical thinking and doesn’t actually exist.”

“Unicorns have got their place, but I don’t think mythical creatures are the sound basis of government policy,” Gauke told the BBC. “At this point we have to face up to what the hard choices are.”

Gauke’s remarks further expose the divisions among ministers as a key parliamentary vote on May’s Brexit deal approaches. Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said Wednesday she sees a “plausible” case for a second referendum if Parliament can’t rally behind any solution. In response, pro-Brexit Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom advocated a managed no-deal Brexit, with a series of side agreements to mitigate the adverse affects.

Split Cabinet

“There are genuinely different approaches as to what our second choice would be" on Brexit within Cabinet, Gauke said. He pushed back against Leadsom’s suggestion, saying a managed no deal would necessarily include two of the elements Brexit supporters hate the most about the divorce terms negotiated with Brussels: an exit payment of tens of billions of pounds, and the so-called backstop arrangement for the post-Brexit Irish border.

May this month deferred a vote on her deal in the House of Commons, acknowledging she couldn’t win it, and vowed to secure further reassurances from Brussels.

The vote is now scheduled for the week starting Jan. 14. If she loses, May has warned the alternatives to her deal are a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit at all -- the default position is for Britain to exit without agreement on March 29.

“Making a conscious decision to proceed with no deal would not be the responsible course of action,” Gauke said. Asked if he would stay in the Cabinet, he said: “It would be very difficult for me in those circumstances.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.