Mr Gove – who was appointed no-deal supremo in Boris Johnson’s cabinet – said that the risk of the UK crashing out of the European Union without a deal on 31 October had been increased by the prime minister’s dramatic House of Commons defeat on Saturday.
He warned MPs that the European Council may not grant the extension to the Brexit process requested by the prime minister or may delay their decision beyond the Halloween deadline on which the UK leaves with no deal by default.
Mr Gove was today chairing an unusual Sunday meeting of the cabinet’s no-deal Brexit preparations committee.
He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “The risk of leaving without a deal has actually increased because we cannot guarantee that the European council will grant an extension.
“That is why I will later today be chairing a cabinet committee meeting – extraordinarily, on a Sunday – in order to ensure that the next stage of our exit preparations and our preparedness for no-deal is accelerated.
“It means that we are triggering Operation Yellowhammer. It means that we are preparing to ensure that if no extension is granted – and we cannot guarantee that an extension will be granted – that we have done everything possible in order to prepare to leave without a deal.”
Mr Gove said that the only way MPs can now guarantee no-deal does not happen is to vote for Mr Johnson’s deal.
“Parliamentarians have a choice,” he said. “There is a sure thing in front of us and that is the prime minister’s deal, that honours the referendum mandate.
“And if people vote for it, then we can leave, and we can leave in an orderly way. But if they don’t vote for that deal, then the risk is that the European Council will say ‘That’s it. We’re not interested in delay. You decided not to back the deal that we’ve backed, and we say is a good deal. I’m afraid that’s it’.”
Mr Gove confirmed that, unlike Theresa May’s deal, the package negotiated by Mr Johnson means the UK faces another no-deal cliff-edge at the end of December 2020 if the PM fails to secure a free trade agreement.
Rather than falling back on the backstop – now removed from the deal – if no trade agreement has been signed by the end of a 14-month transition period, the UK would be left to either request an extension to the transition or to leave under World Trade Organisation rules, viewed by most economists as far less favourable.
“The constitutional position is that beforehand, with the backstop, it would have been the case that if we didn’t conclude a deal, we would have been kept in arrangements against our will from which we could not exit,” said Mr Gove.
“We can absolutely exit. We do not want to leave with no deal and it’s up to MPs. It’s only possible if MPs vote to leave with no-deal. I believe MPs will vote for the prime minister’s deal and for a good Free Trade Agreement.”
- Supporters of a Final Say referendum on any Brexit deal can sign a letter demanding a public vote at http://www.peoples-vote.uk/letter.