(Bloomberg) — Philip Hammond warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson he’ll work through Parliament along with other former Cabinet ministers to try to stop the U.K. leaving the European Union without a divorce deal.
Johnson has said he’s committed to delivering Brexit “do or die” on Oct. 31. While he says he wants to do so with a deal, he is yet to meet any EU leaders as the clock ticks down. Instead, he’s insisting that they must reopen the deal negotiated by his predecessor, Theresa May, and remove a section designed to prevent a hard border between the U.K. and Ireland.
To persuade the bloc to do that, Johnson’s government has ramped up its rhetoric about preparations for a no-deal Brexit. But that has provoked those in his own Conservative Party who argue this would do huge economic damage.
“Leaving the EU without a deal would be just as much of a betrayal of the referendum result as not leaving at all,” Hammond, who was May’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, told the BBC on Wednesday. “To set the bar for negotiations so high that we inevitably leave without a deal would be a betrayal. The prime minister said he would get a deal and we want to see him deliver that deal.”
Johnson later accused Hammond and others of effectively working with the EU to undermine his negotiating position.
“There’s a terrible kind of collaboration going on between people who think they can block Brexit in Parliament and our European friends,” the prime minister said in a Facebook Live broadcast on Wednesday. “The more they think that there’s a chance that Brexit can be blocked in Parliament, the more adamant they are in sticking to their position.”
The government doesn’t expect any movement from the EU until it’s clear whether or not Parliament can block a no-deal Brexit, a person familiar with the matter said earlier this week. The EU has repeatedly ruled out renegotiating the withdrawal agreement, saying it’s the only deal available.
Hammond, who denies he’s trying to block Brexit and voted three times this year to leave the EU with a deal, said he was “very confident” Parliament had the means to stop Johnson, but said that didn’t mean there was a majority to do so. His argument was backed up by a letter to Johnson signed by Hammond and 20 other Tories — including several former Cabinet ministers — urging him to change course.
“We are alarmed by the ‘Red Lines’ you have drawn which, on the face of it appear to eliminate the chance of reaching agreement with the EU,” they wrote in the letter, The Sun newspaper reported.
Even with his Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party allies, Johnson has a working majority in Parliament of just one. That means Hammond and his group have the numbers, at least in theory, to compel a shift in strategy.
In a separate warning, Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow said on Tuesday he would fight any attempt by the government to suspend Parliament to force through a split many lawmakers oppose. His support to MPs trying to stop a no-deal Brexit has already proved crucial, with parliamentary rules changed to allow different maneuvers.
(Updates with Johnson comment in fifth paragraph.)
–With assistance from Jessica Shankleman.
To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Hutton in London at [email protected]
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at [email protected], Stuart Biggs, Mark Williams
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