Many thousands of jobs will be lost across the UK if Theresa May’s successor triggers a no-deal Brexit, the business secretary has warned.
Greg Clark told Sky News in an exclusive interview he was certain jobs would go in no-deal as he implored colleagues to “strain every sinew to avoid that”.
Asked how many jobs could be lost, he replied: “It’s many thousands of jobs. Everyone knows that”.
“I think that every person who considers the evidence that companies have given, whether it’s in the automotive sector, whether it’s in the food sector, whether it’s in aerospace, whether it’s in industries up and down the country.
“You know if you become less efficient and your ability to trade is impeded then of course losing your competitiveness means that there will be jobs that will be lost.”
Mr Clark said this was why it was “hugely important” to negotiate a deal rather than leave without one and said the government had a “responsibility to protect people’s livelihoods in this country”.
He said: “In talking to businesses one of the things that most strikes me talking to men and women on the shop floor, working on production lines, their incomes and their livelihoods and those of their families depends on [a deal].
“Everyone accepts this is a very difficult challenge. When the country voted to leave the EU of course there is a requirement to implement that but I think we need to do it in a way that takes full account of the impact on real people’s lives and do everything we can to ensure it doesn’t visit harm on them.”
However, Mark Francois, deputy chairman of the eurosceptic ERG group, told Sky News he believed the economic risk of a no-deal exit “had been exaggerated” and said the political imperative to leave the EU on 31 October “could not be clearer”.
“[The public] made a decision which was we should leave,” he said.
“If we don’t keep our word, if we kick the can down the road again, how can we expect them to believe anything else we say ever again? I believe that on the morning of 1 November the sun will rise on a free country and I intend to stay up to see it happen.”
Mr Clark, together with Justice Secretary David Gauke and Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, has been one of the most vocal opponents of a no-deal Brexit and told Sky News that he wasn’t going to change his tune with the change of leadership.
“I have always been consistent that we need to leave with a deal,” he said, when asked if he would sit in a cabinet where backing no deal as a policy was required.
“I am not going to trim and chop and change my views given that they are based on the evidence that men and women up and down this country running businesses, working in businesses, have made it crystal clear to me what that means and I will always represent them.
“A no-deal Brexit would be enormously damaging and I will do everything I can to persuade my colleagues to avoid that and get a good deal.
“My responsibility at all times is to advance what I know is to be the truth. We must have a deal that allows us to move on to settle this debate and negotiation.”
Mr Clark’s vocal opposition to a no-deal Brexit makes it almost certain that he will be returning to the backbenches with colleagues Mr Gauke and chancellor Philip Hammond, given that Boris Johnson has made it clear that anyone who serves in his cabinet must accept that leaving with no-deal remains a policy option.
On Thursday Ms Rudd ditched her opposition to no-deal in a bid to stay on, saying that she now accepted no-deal is “party of the armoury going forward”.
Mr Clark also acknowledged that parliament alone could not stop a no-deal Brexit.
“Parliament has not entirely taken if off the table because it requires the EU to agree to it so it is a fact. I’d rather it wasn’t. I think we have to have a deal,” he said.
“I think it would have hugely negative consequences for our economy and our society if we leave without a deal but even someone who is absolutely passionate about getting a deal, it is a fact that if we don’t reach an agreement that is what will happen.”