Ex-civil service chief Kerslake says no deal Brexit would lead to ‘re-examination’ of referendum

Comments come as Institute for Government warns of high risk of no deal Brexit as talks enter final months

Photo: ParliamentTV

By Richard Johnstone

20 Aug 2018

The former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake has said that if the UK was on course to leave the European Union without a deal next March that would lead to a re-examination of the exit decision.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Saturday, Bob Kerslake, who stepped down as head of the civil service in 2014 after two years and has been advising Labour on preparing for government, told the programme that if the government was unable to strike a deal with the EU, there would have to be a "pause" in the Article 50 process.

Under the Article 50 process the UK will leave the EU on 29 March next year, but if there is no deal by then Kerslake said there would need to be a re-examination of the vote to leave.


“The consequences of a no deal would be so serious as I think Parliament would have to seriously consider whether it could contemplate this,” he said.

"The question people need ask themselves is: is this a risk that they think we should be taking?

“If the government can negotiate a good deal, then so be it. But if they can't and we end up in this position, then we have to reopen the question of whether we go forward with Brexit at all. It is not too late to do that.

“A pause to reflect would certainly be necessary. I think that is a pretty high probability now. But I think that pause would need to include – and I suspect this would be insisted on by the [European] Commission – some re-examination of the decision itself.”

Kerslake’s comments came as the Institute for Government published a report looking at the possible scenarios in the final months of Brexit negotiations, which warned that the risks of either a deliberate or an accidental no deal are quite high.

The IfG highlighted that both the UK and European parliaments will need to ratify the withdrawal treaty for the UK to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 in an orderly manner and with a transition in place.

There are five basic scenarios for the outcome of the negotiations, according to the think tank, but under the Article 50 exit rules, there is a built in likelihood of no deal.

“This means that, unless the UK asks for an extension and the European Council unanimously agrees, the UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019 at the end of the specified two-year process, with or without an agreement on the terms of departure,” the report noted. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act, passed by Parliament in June this year, also set the date of 29 March 2019 for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in statute.

All of the Brexit scenarios depend on three factors, according to the IfG – the prime minister concludes a withdrawal agreement with the remaining EU member states (deal) or not (no deal); Parliament accepts the agreement (yes) or rejects it (no); and Parliament then asks the government to renegotiate, or accepts a no deal.

Of the five possible scenarios set out the report, the IfG warned that a no-deal Brexit is likely in four of them.

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