Finance Minister Philip Hammond said on Sunday he would resign if Boris Johnson became Britain’s new prime minister because he could not support a leader happy to take the country out of the European Union without a deal.
Hammond’s decision underlines the strength of feeling in parliament against a no-deal Brexit, which some lawmakers and many businesses say would be catastrophic for the economy.
A loyal Conservative who has served in a number of ministerial roles, Hammond is an unlikely rebel. He said his fears over a no deal had forced him to vote against the government for the first time in his 22-year political career last week.
Britain’s new prime minister is tipped to be former London mayor Johnson, who has promised to leave the EU “do or die” by an Oct. 31 deadline. That leaves him facing a tricky Brexit challenge from the moment he takes office on Wednesday.
Johnson has said he would ramp up preparations for a no deal if he becomes prime minister to try to force the EU’s negotiators to make changes to the deal that Prime Minister Theresa May sealed with Brussels and UK lawmakers voted down.
But parliamentary opposition to a no deal is growing and the EU is refusing to budge over that Withdrawal Agreement.
“I am sure I am not going to be sacked because I am going to resign before we get to that point,” Hammond told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, adding he would resign to May before she tenders her own resignation to the Queen on Wednesday.
“Assuming that Boris Johnson becomes prime minister, I understand that his conditions for serving in his government would include accepting a no-deal (EU) exit on the 31st of October. That is not something I could ever sign up to.”
Hammond, who according to sources close to Johnson often infuriated the former mayor who felt the finance minister was “talking Britain down”, said he did not believe his former colleague could win a deal with the EU by the deadline.
He instead advised the new prime minister to ask the EU for a little longer if there were signs that the two sides could agree on a compromise position – something Johnson’s rival for the premiership, Jeremy Hunt, has said he is open to.
If not, Hammond said he would work with other lawmakers to make sure Britain was not taken out of the EU without a deal against parliament’s wishes – a pledge welcomed by the Brexit policy head of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer.
“Yes, (I will campaign) to stop no deal happening on Oct. 31 without the consent of parliament,” Hammond said.
“I want to be a loyal supporter of the next Conservative government and if (it).. can deliver a negotiated Brexit deal that protects our economy then I will strongly support that government. And I hope I will be able to.”