In Brussels, Theresa May will ask the EU to move the Brexit negotiation to the question of trade but her demand is certain to be rejected © Bloomberg

As Theresa May prepares to meet EU leaders in Brussels, Conservative hard Brexiters are ramping up calls for Britain to walk away from the talks.

The prime minister will on Thursday ask the EU to move the Brexit negotiation to the question of trade but her demand is certain to be rejected. Hardline Tories therefore insist Mrs May should stop negotiating, walk out and say she is preparing for “no deal”.

In an open letter to the prime minister, leading Brexiters — including Lord Lawson, Peter Lilley, John Redwood and Owen Paterson — say Mrs May should formally declare now that Britain will conduct trade deals via World Trade Organisation rules from March 2019.

“It is inevitable, with ineluctable certainty we are going to end up with WTO rules at the end of this anyway,” Mr Paterson told the BBC on Thursday. “We are saying it would be much better to state that now, give business and administrative organisations certainty so they can begin to prepare.”

The Brexiters’ demand for a walkout is unlikely to get very far as senior cabinet figures are already ruling it out. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, said this week that a no deal outcome was “unthinkable”. Philip Hammond, the chancellor, has refused to commit Treasury cash for a cliff-edge outcome. As for Labour, Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, says “threatening to walk away at this stage is irresponsible”. 

The EU also knows that any threat to walk out of the talks lacks credibility because it would end in chaos — mainly affecting the British. The InFacts blog has set out 10 reasons why “no deal” would be “bonkers”. These include the prospects of price hikes as tariffs are placed on EU imports; customs chaos at Dover; planes grounded as the UK loses access to Europe’s Open Skies agreement; total confusion on citizens’ rights; and the inevitable return of a hard border in Ireland.

Mr Paterson says the advantage of declaring “no deal” now is that it would allow business and Whitehall to prepare for a WTO outcome. But it is hard to believe that even 17 months of planning would gain the UK very much.

Demands for no deal are unlikely to gain immediate traction at Westminster. Once Mrs May returns from Brussels, the UK and EU will engage in two months of haggling over whether and how Britain should commit to the financial settlement that Brussels seeks.

What is far harder to predict is where we will be at the end of this year. It is not yet clear whether Mrs May’s upcoming stand-off with Europe will end with Britain managing to contain the costs of its financial settlement, or whether the UK will end up paying the full bill.

If Mrs May fails to use the next two months to good effect, Conservative backbench anger with her — and unrest over the way the Brexit talks are proceeding — could deepen. It is then that Tory frustration with the entire negotiation could break into the open. 

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Further reading

Rethinking the UK food system
Is Brexit a chance for a major rethink of how the farming sector goes about providing food? (IDS)

Going local
Rob Jonkman asks which level of government should take over the powers coming back from the EU. (UK in a changing Europe) 

Peering over the cliff edge
As with any messy, contested divorce, such a break-up would likely be the most expensive scenario, one that both sides are preparing for. Politico takes a look at the possibilities. (Politico.eu) 

Hard numbers

UK retail sales growth rate falls in September, misses estimates

Adam Samson writes: Growth in UK retail sales dipped in September from the previous month, missing economists’ forecasts and highlighting the effect of rapidly rising prices on consumers’ wallets.

The quantity bought in Britain’s retail sector rose 1.2 per cent in September from the same month in 2016, down from 2.3 per cent growth in the year to August, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. That missed expectations that the rate would come in at 2.3 per cent.

On a month-on-month basis, retail sales declined 0.8 per cent. Stores selling items besides food exerted the most downward pressure, the ONS said.

Looking at the third quarter as a whole, retail sales rose 1.5 per cent from the same period in 2016, down from 2.5 per cent in the second quarter. That was the weakest pace in four years.

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