UK trade minister admits there's still a risk of a no-deal Brexit — and it would be 'unfortunate'

  • The government unveiled its long-awaited draft withdrawal agreement on Wednesday, which details the terms of the U.K.'s departure from the EU on March 29, 2019.
  • May is facing opposition from across the political spectrum to the proposed draft deal, which must be approved by parliament, with critics saying it could leave Britain indefinitely tied to the EU post-Brexit.

British Trade Secretary Liam Fox told CNBC Friday that a no-deal Brexit still remains a possibility, adding the consequences of such a disorderly divorce from the EU would be "unfortunate."

His comments come at a time when British Prime Minister Theresa May is fighting for her political survival, after a draft divorce deal with the EU prompted a flurry of government ministers to resign.

"Throughout the process the government has said it's only prudent for us to prepare for no deal. We don't believe that that's either in the U.K.'s interest or the interest of the European Union," Fox said on Friday.

He warned that a no-deal scenario would most likely result in "undue friction" for companies based in the U.K. and the EU post-Brexit, with the process also resulting in "threats to their profitability."

"Now, it could happen (and) it would be unfortunate if it did," Fox said.

The government unveiled its long-awaited draft withdrawal agreement on Wednesday, which details the terms of the U.K.'s departure from the EU on March 29, 2019.

A no-deal scenario is generally considered to be where the U.K. crashes out of the EU without any formal relationship and has to rely on WTO trading rules.

'Full confidence'

May is facing opposition from across the political spectrum to the proposed draft deal, which must be approved by parliament, with critics saying it could leave Britain indefinitely tied to the EU post-Brexit.

In addition to protests from opposition lawmakers, May's proposed deal has come under intense scrutiny from many within her own Conservative Party and, crucially, from members of the Northern Irish party which props up her minority government.

In response to May's draft proposal, Britain's Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned from his post on Thursday, prompting sterling to suffer its worst one-day fall against the euro since 2016.

A junior minister for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara, the Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey and Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain's Brexit Department, also submitted their resignations on Thursday morning.

Despite mutiny from some members of May's own party, leading Brexiteers in the cabinet have rallied behind the prime minister.

One is Environment Secretary Michael Gove, a key figure in the 2016 Leave campaign, and the other was Fox.

Speaking to CNBC, Fox said he had "full confidence" in May's premiership, adding she was taking Britain forwards with "resilience."

Sterling has since stabilized, after May resolutely defended the draft agreement. The U.K. prime minister said Thursday that it is "truly the best deal for Britain."

'May's proposal is a mess'

May says the country is now left with three options: support her draft deal, leave the EU in a disorderly "no deal" scenario — which businesses and citizens fear would be particularly disruptive — or no Brexit.

More than two years after Britain voted to leave the EU, it remains unclear how, on what terms or even if the country will leave the bloc as planned on March 29, 2019.

"Her proposal is a mess. It's just too vague and the reason why it's too vague is that she was negotiating with her own party and her own cabinet rather than negotiating with the European Union," Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general for the Labour party, told CNBC's Willem Marx on Friday.

"The problem isn't so much Britain vs. the EU, its Mrs May trying to hold this shambles together," Chakrabarti said, before adding: "If (May) can't get a deal through the House of Commons on such a pivotal issue … We need a General Election."