Mr Gove later claimed direct rule in Northern Ireland could be a consequence of a no-deal Brexit on March 29.

Independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon (North Down) said MPs, including the DUP, must give “due weight to the serious warning” issued by the head of the Northern Ireland civil service David Sterling about the “grave consequences” if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Gove said she was “absolutely 100% totally right”, adding legislation issued by the Westminster Government to empower Northern Ireland’s civil servants to take decisions is “sustainable at the moment” and it is hoped the executive can be restored.

Mr Gove went on: “But it is also clear that the current situation with no executive would be very, very difficult to sustain in the uniquely challenging context of a no-deal exit.

“Now we, in the circumstances that the House has voted for no-deal, would have to start formal engagement with the Irish government about further arrangements for providing strengthened decision-making in the event of that outcome, and that would include the very real possibility of imposing a form of direct rule.”

Responding to a question from Tory Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield), Mr Gove said: “Tomorrow the House will have an opportunity, if the motion passes tonight, to decide how to seek an extension.

Obviously, an extension is not something that we can insist upon and automatically see delivered, it is in the gift of the EU and it requires the assent of all 27 other EU members.”

Outlining the prospect of a no-deal exit, he said: “If we do choose to leave without a deal on March 29th there’ll be economic, political and constitutional challenges that this country will face. Now we are a great country, we would get through it, we would in due course ensure that this country was more prosperous, freer and successful and, of course, Government has been working hard in order to ensure that we can be prepared for any eventuality and we can mitigate the risks of leaving without a deal.”

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