Brexit

Raab: We'll have to make compromises on Brexit but a no-deal is not unthinkable

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond ahead of his speech at the Conservative Party annual conference at the International Convention Centre, Birmingham PICTURE: Stefan Rousseau/PA

BREXIT secretary Dominic Raab has told Tory Party members there had to be "compromises" with the EU over Brexit.

However, Mr Raab, in a message to his Eurosceptic colleagues, said the government's deal was one that many would have "bitten his arm off" for before the referendum.

Mr Raab also used his party conference speech in Birmingham to send a message to the EU that a no-deal Brexit is not "unthinkable" and warned that the government would not tolerate "bullying" tactics.

The comment was in reference to European Council president Donald Tusk bluntly rejecting Theresa May's proposal at last month's Salzburg summit.

Mr Raab said: "Our prime minister has been constructive and respectful. In return we heard jibes from senior leaders."

"Some people say that no deal is unthinkable. Wrong.

"What is unthinkable is that this government, or any British government, could be bullied, by the threat of some kind of economic embargo, into signing a one-sided deal against our country's interests."

In a message to his Eurosceptic backbenches, Mr Raab said: "Do I think the deal we are pursuing is perfect? Of course not.

"Is it everything I wanted? No, it isn't. This is a negotiation, there have been compromises. We're not decoupling as quickly or as completely as some would like.

"To those of my fellow Eurosceptics who think it's not good enough, I say this: If I'd told you three years ago that we were going to... end free movement, stop the vast annual budget contributions, leave the Single Market, get out of the Customs Union, pursue an independent trade policy, make Parliament supreme, protect the Union, exit the Common Fisheries Policy and ditch the Common Agricultural Policy, you'd have bitten my arm off."

Mrs May hinted on Sunday that she was ready to contemplate further concessions on her Chequers plan for future relations with Europe, telling the BBC she wanted to "sit down" with the EU and discuss its concerns.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Philip Hammond launched a scathing attack on Boris Johnson, dismissing the former foreign secretary's Brexit proposals as "fantasy world" and repeatedly saying he does not expect him to become prime minister.

After a day in which Theresa May and senior Tories lined up to heap criticism on her most high-profile critic, the chancellor mounted a sustained assault on his former Cabinet colleague in a newspaper interview and a series of broadcast appearances.

Asked by the Daily Mail whether Mr Johnson could become prime minister, Mr Hammond said: "I don't expect it to happen," and suggested Mr Johnson could not do "grown-up politics".

He went on to attack the flamboyant Brexiteer for having "no grasp of detail" on complex subjects such as Brexit, suggesting his greatest achievement to date had been introducing the "Boris Bike" cycle scheme while London mayor.

The attack came at the end of the first day of the Conservative Party's annual conference in Birmingham in which its fault lines over Brexit were exposed with just weeks to go to settle a withdrawal deal with Brussels.

Mr Johnson had used a Sunday Times interview to describe Mrs May's Brexit policy as "deranged" and "preposterous".

In remarks that fuelled speculation about his leadership ambitions, the man who spearheaded the Leave campaign contrasted his position on Brexit with that of Mrs May, who backed Remain, saying: "Unlike the prime minister, I fought for this."

Mr Johnson is not speaking from the stage at this year's conference, after walking out of Cabinet in July in protest at the plan agreed at Chequers for the UK's future relationship with the EU.

But his scheduled speech on the fringe of the gathering today is the most hotly-anticipated event of the four-day conference, with widespread expectations he will use it to step up his assault on the PM's plans.

In an interview broadcast earlier yesterday the chancellor acknowledged the UK economy has suffered as a result of the vote to leave the EU, telling BBC1's Breakfast: "Clearly there has been a hit to our economy through the uncertainty that the Brexit process has caused.

"Many businesses are sitting on their hands, frankly, waiting to see what the outturn of this negotiation is before confirming their investment plans, and of course that has an impact on the British economy.

"I believe that when the prime minister lands this deal and brings it back, there will actually be a boost to the economy, as businesses start making those investments that they've deferred over the last year or so, consumers start spending on big-ticket items as they feel more confident knowing where we are going in the future."

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