UK cabinet row over Brexit migration plans downplayed as 'lively' debate

Claims top cabinet ministers are warring over the government’s plans to split from the EU have been downplayed as “lively” debate by Jeremy Hunt.

The health secretary, who does not attend the Brexit cabinet committee, said senior Conservatives were “absolutely united” over the issue when he faced the media this morning (17 October).

“We must go through all the options. This isn’t the first time in the history of government where you read reports in the newspapers that may not actually reflect what’s happening,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The comments come after The Times and The Telegraph reported a rift between Chancellor Philip Hammond and other cabinet ministers.

A row apparently broke out during a Brexit cabinet committee meeting over Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s plans to introduce work visas in a bid to reduce net migration to the UK. Hammond apparently urged caution over the proposal, provoking claims he was attempting to “undermine” Brexit.

The reports come amid a debate over a so-called “soft” and “hard” Brexit, with the latter option seeing the UK split from the EU’s customs union and having less access to the bloc’s single market.

The UK faces a £66bn ($80bn) annual tax revenue hit and 9.5% GDP cut if it trades solely under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, according to a leaked government document.

The release of the Treasury figures to The Times last week saw Brexit Secretary David Davis accusing the ministry of trying to “undermine” the UK’s negotiations with Brussels.

European Council President Donald Tusk has also weighed into the debate, warning the only option to a “hard Brexit” was “no Brexit”.

“The brutal truth is that Brexit will be a loss for all of us. There will be no cakes on the table. For anyone,” he told a Brussels-based think tank. “There will be only salt and vinegar. If you ask me if there is any alternative to this bad scenario, I would like to tell you that yes, there is.”

Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to trigger Article 50, the official mechanism to split from the EU, by March 2017. But the government is currently facing a legal challenge on the issue in England’s High Court.

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