Philip Hammond warns Tory leadership contenders they would not 'survive' a no-deal Brexit

Written by Matt Honeycombe-Foster on 27 May 2019 in News

 Top Cabinet minister said the next Conservative leader could expect to meet fierce resistance if they "defied Parliament"

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Chancellor Philip Hammond has warned Tory leadership candidates that they will not "survive" any attempt to force a no-deal Brexit through Parliament.

The top Cabinet minister said the next Conservative leader could expect to meet fierce resistance if they "defied Parliament" to back leaving the EU without a deal.

And he repeatedly refused to rule out voting against a new Prime Minister who actively pursued a no-deal exit.

With the Tory leadership race now underway, a string of candidates including Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom have said they would be prepared to leave the EU on World Trade Organisation terms on 31 October - a position that MPs have repeatedly voted against in recent months.

But Hammond warned: "This is a parliamentary democracy. A Prime Minister who ignores parliament cannot expect to survive very long."

And he told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "A Prime Minister has to be able to command the confidence of Parliament in order to govern.

"Now, I don't imagine that any of the candidates that you will be interviewing over the coming weeks... will have in their minds that they want to push through a no-deal exit on 31 October and then leave office.

"How will they govern if they have defied Parliament on such an important issue? This has to be done by compromise - by finding a route through in Parliament that can command a grudging, maybe, but can command a majority of Parliamentarians."

The intervention from the Chancellor came as Dominic Raab confirmed his intention to run for the Tory leadership - and insisted that he would be "absolutely resolute" in his efforts to push for changes to the Brexit withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May.

Brussels has long said it will not reopen the withdrawal agreement, despite concerns from Tory Brexiteers about its backstop provision to avoid a hard Irish border.

Raab told the same programme: "I don't want a WTO Brexit.

"But I think unless you're willing to keep our promises as politicians...we put ourselves in a much weaker position in terms of getting a deal.

"Because if you're not willing to walk away from a negotiation - it doesn't focus the mind of the other side."

But Hammond blasted colleagues on the "hard Brexit wing" of his party, who he said had "consistently failed to understand how the EU approached this problem".

"They set out at the very beginning how they were going to deal with us as a departing member," the Chancellor said of the EU.

"And they have actually never wavered from that position that they set out at the beginning, insisting on negotiating the exit terms before talking about the future relationship, prioritising the unity of the 27 over the future relationship with the UK.

"And I hear a lot of my colleagues talking about wanting to do a deal with the EU: but actually many of them only want to do a deal that is entirely on their terms.

"They're not really proposing to negotiate with the European Union: they're simply proposing to go to Brussels once again and tell the European Union, once again, what it is they don't like about the withdrawal agreement."

The Chancellor also refused to rule out voting against the Government in a bid to stop a no-deal Brexit.

Asked whether he would vote against a Government that was actively pursuing a WTO departure, Hammond said: "I would certainly not support a strategy to take us out with no-deal."

And he was specifically pressed on whether he would vote against the new Prime Minister in any confidence motion triggered by MPs opposed to a no-deal policy, replying: "I'm saying this is a very difficult situation.

"It would challenge not just me but many of our colleagues and I hope we will never get to that position."

Labour's Shami Chakrabarti told the same show it would be a "very good idea" for Labour to put down immediate no-confidence vote in new Tory leader in a bid to force a general election.

In a further sign of the splits at the top of the Conservative party over a no-deal Brexit, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox meanwhile said he believed a "determined" Prime Minister could defy objections in the Commons and take the country out without an EU agreement.

Leaving without a deal in October remains the legally-default position unless MPs get behind some form of Brexit agreement or request a further extension to Article 50.

"There is a chance that parliament could try to stop a no-deal," Dr Fox told the BBC's Pienaar's Politics show.

"A very determined Prime Minister could probably, by using time, get to no-deal even if parliament didn’t want it.”

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