Boris Johnson is facing the prospect of fresh Cabinet resignations if he is confirmed on Tuesday, as expected, in the role of new Tory leader after Chancellor Philip Hammond dramatically announced he would be standing down.
Mr Hammond announced he could not serve in a Johnson administration that was prepared to accept a no-deal Brexit to break the stalemate over the UK’s EU departure.
His revelation on live television on Sunday came after fellow Cabinet Remainer, justice secretary David Gauke, said he would quit this week rather than serve under Mr Johnson, branding a no-deal Brexit a national ‘humiliation’.
Further departures are expected to follow. Former leadership candidate and international development secretary Rory Stewart is among the likely resignations, while defence minister Tobias Ellwood prompted speculation about his own future by refusing to say if he would serve under Mr Johnson.
The new Tory leader will be unveiled on Tuesday morning, but Mr Johnson is the overwhelming favourite to beat rival Jeremy Hunt.
Although Mr Johnson will inherit a Cabinet shorn of several key posts, most of those departing are likely to have been axed anyway over their opposition to a no-deal Brexit. The frontrunner to replace Mrs May had warned Cabinet ministers during the Tory leadership hustings they should be ready to commit to a no-deal scenario.
Mr Hammond, who has been in Number 11 for three years, has been a vocal critic of a no-deal Brexit – something Mr Johnson has vowed to do if he cannot secure changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.
Asked on the BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show if he thought he would be sacked, Mr Hammond said: “No, I’m sure I’m not going to be sacked because I’m going to resign before we get to that point.
“Assuming that Boris Johnson becomes the next prime minister, I understand that his conditions for serving in his government would include accepting a no-deal exit on the 31st October and it’s not something that I could ever sign up to.
“It’s very important that the prime minister is able to have a chancellor who is closely aligned with him in terms of policy and I therefore intend to resign to Theresa May before she goes to the palace to tender her own resignation on Wednesday.”
It comes after Mr Gauke – a former Remainer – told a national newspaper he would also quit on Wednesday if Mr Johnson enters Number 10.
Mr Gauke said: “If the test of loyalty to stay in the Cabinet is a commitment to support no-deal on 31 October, which, to be fair to him, Boris has consistently said, then that’s not something I’m prepared to sign up to.
“I recognise that this spell in Government is coming to an end. Given that I’ve been in the Cabinet since Theresa May came to power, I think the appropriate thing is for me to resign to her.”
Mr Hammond, who is dubbed ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ due to his dry image, had been widely expected to leave office when Mrs May steps down on Wednesday.
Last week, he put down a marker about his willingness to cause trouble on the backbenches for the next prime minister as he and three other Cabinet ministers backed a measure aimed at preventing Mr Johnson suspending Parliament in order to force through a no-deal Brexit.
The Chancellor, Mr Gauke, Mr Stewart and business secretary Greg Clark did not support the Government in the vote.
He has previously promised to do “everything” in his power to block a no-deal Brexit and last week left open the possibility of voting to bring down a Conservative government led by Mr Johnson if the UK was on course to crash out of the EU without a deal on 31 October.
Asked by Marr whether he would vote against the new prime minister in a vote of no-confidence, Mr Hammond said: “I don’t think it will get to that and, while many clever people have been scratching their heads, Parliamentary process is extraordinarily complex and sometimes arcane.
“I am confident that Parliament does have a way of preventing a no-deal exit on 31 October without parliamentary consent and I intend to work with others to ensure Parliament uses its power to make sure that the new government can’t do that.
“The point of that is not to inflict some defeat on the new government. It is to ensure that the new government focuses then on trying to achieve a sensible, negotiated settlement with the EU that protects our economy and allows us all to get on with our lives.”
Earlier, Mr Ellwood repeatedly sidestepped questions over whether he would serve in a government led by Mr Johnson.
“I really get frustrated with this energy towards no deal,” he said. “I know all my parliamentary colleagues on all sides of the House recognise the dangers of no deal. The fact that we keep talking about it, it isn’t a solution.”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell warned a no-deal Brexit would “devastate” the UK economy.
“The Conservatives have bungled the Brexit negotiations, dragged down the economy and put jobs at risk,” he said.
“They are now on the brink of appointing a prime minister that their own Chancellor believes would be a danger to the economy and the wellbeing of everyone in the UK.
“Boris Johnson’s no-deal Brexit would devastate the UK economy and the public finances, compounding nine years of failure to manage our economy.
“While the Tories deny Britain the opportunity to choose our next prime minister, Labour would let the people decide the country’s future through a public vote on any deal agreed by Parliament, with Labour campaigning for Remain against no deal or a bad Tory deal.”