Chancellor Philip Hammond has piled fresh pressure on Theresa May by declining to rule out quitting if the UK went through with a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Hammond said “a lot depends on the circumstances” after being repeatedly asked whether he could remain in the Government if the Prime Minister decided to take the UK out of the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement.
His comments on BBC Radio 4’s Today came after he had told the programme that a no-deal Brexit would cause “significant” disruption and damage to the economy, and that it went against what Leave voters had been told before the 2016 referendum.
On Thursday evening, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd hinted she could resign from the Government to stop the UK crashing out of the EU without an agreement.
The Work and Pensions Secretary, a prominent Remain supporter, said she was going to “wait and see” if Mrs May allows a free vote on a series of amendments to her Brexit Plan B on Tuesday.
Mrs May’s official spokesman played down the significance of Ms Rudd’s remarks, telling reporters: “What I heard from the Work and Pensions Secretary multiple times was that the best way forward for the country is to support the deal, and that is what the Prime Minister and her ministers are working towards.”
Asked about his future in a no-deal scenario, Mr Hammond, who is in Davos at the World Economic Forum, told Today: “I’m not going to speculate because a lot depends on the circumstances, what happens.
“The responsibility I have is to manage the economy in what is the best interests of the British people.
“I clearly do not believe that making a choice to leave without a deal would be a responsible thing to do, but I recognise that that is potentially a default that we could find ourselves in, and if we did find ourselves in that position then the responsible thing to do is to use every possible way of mitigating and minimising the impact.”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell branded Mr Hammond “gutless” for not explicitly threatening to resign over a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “Other Cabinet members, like Amber Rudd, are standing up to the Prime Minister. As Chancellor, he knows how bad a no-deal Brexit would be for the jobs and livelihoods of our people and yet he won’t come out and stand up to Theresa May.
“In interview after interview, he avoids the question and passes the buck.”
Mr Hammond was branded “dangerously complacent” by Tory backbencher Nick Boles for suggesting that Tuesday was not a “High Noon” moment for the future of Brexit.
Mr Boles said an amendment to the PM’s motion which he has tabled with Labour MP Yvette Cooper represents the final chance for MPs to compel the Government to delay Brexit beyond the scheduled date of March 29.
“If it fails, we will all have to rely on the PM choosing to do so,” warned Mr Boles.
The developments came as the Queen spoke in favour of individuals seeking “common ground” and “never losing sight of the bigger picture”, comments which have been interpreted by some as a veiled reference to the toxic mood of the public debate around Brexit.
The monarch, in a speech to mark the centenary of the Sandringham Women’s Institute, also extolled the virtues of “respecting” the other person’s point of view.
After a proposed cross-party call for a second referendum was pulled on Thursday, Labour Remainers have tabled their own amendments in a bid to ensure calls for a People’s Vote are considered by the Commons on January 29.
The proposals, tabled by Ian Murray, Angela Smith and Mike Gapes, would require ministers to legislate for a public vote with an option to remain in the EU. Each is framed as an amendment to Jeremy Corbyn’s own amendment calling for parliamentary time to be made available for MPs to consider either Labour’s proposal for a customs union deal or a public vote.
Meanwhile, Conservative backbencher Andrew Murrison has tabled a new amendment - backed by the influential chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, and former ministers Damian Green and Dame Cheryl Gillan - requiring the controversial Irish backstop to be “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”.
The Murrison amendment appears to offer Brexiteers who rebelled against Mrs May last week a route to reconciliation, stating that its backers “would support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change”.
Mrs May’s spokesman declined to comment on how Conservative MPs will be told to vote on Tuesday, other than to tell reporters that ministers will be expected to support the Government’s position.
Meanwhile, Mr Hammond’s French counterpart, finance minister Bruno Le Maire, warned that the Irish border backstop issue that remains the main sticking point in the Withdrawal Agreement is “done” and will not be revisited.
He said the European Union has “nothing to give” the UK on the Brexit deal apart from “clarifications” and it was up to Mrs May’s Government to find a way out of the situation it found itself in, not EU member states.
Mr Le Maire, who is also in Davos, told Today: “Reopening the deal would mean weeks, months, of new negotiations between the UK and the European member states, that is exactly what we want to avoid.”
Asked about whether no-deal measures taken by the EU would be as bad as some groups have suggested, including border delays between Dover and Calais, Mr Le Maire said: “There are many concrete consequences that would be a consequence of a no-deal situation. But we are prepared to do that.”
Mrs May’s spokesman said: “There is a clear message from EU leaders that they want us to leave with a deal, that they understand that a deal is in the best interests of the UK and the EU.
“The Prime Minister put the deal as it stands before Parliament and it suffered a significant defeat, so clearly if we are going to leave with a deal we are going to need to make some changes to it.”