Former chancellor Philip Hammond has hit out at “unelected people” around Boris Johnson as he called a no-deal Brexit a “betrayal” of the 2016 EU referendum result.
In his first major intervention since leaving government, Mr Hammond served a fresh warning that he will act to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a divorce agreement on 31 October.
Arguing there is “no mandate” for a no-deal Brexit amongst voters or within the House of Commons, the ex-cabinet minister insisted parliament will “make its voice heard” over the next 78 days until the Halloween deadline.
Last month, Mr Hammond quit government after revealing he could not serve under Mr Johnson due to his staunch opposition to a no-deal Brexit.
He also refused to rule out voting to bring down a Conservative government intent on a no-deal outcome.
The prime minister has repeatedly vowed to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October “do or die” and with or without a deal.
Writing in The Times on Wednesday, Mr Hammond said he had remained quiet over the past few weeks to “give the prime minister the time and space to set out his plan to deliver a Brexit deal”.
But, explaining the motivation behind his decision to intervene now, Mr Hammond added: “The early signals are not encouraging.”
In what will be viewed as a swipe at Mr Johnson’s top adviser Dominic Cummings – the former chief of the Vote Leave campaign – the ex-chancellor wrote: “The move from demanding changes to the backstop to demanding its total removal is a pivot from a tough negotiating stance to a wrecking one.
“The unelected people who pull the strings of this government know that this is a demand the EU cannot, and will not, accede to.”
Describing a no-deal Brexit as “not an acceptable outcome”, Mr Hammond continued: “Most people in this country want to see us leave in a smooth and orderly fashion that will not disrupt lives, cost jobs or diminish living standards, whether they voted Leave or Remain in 2016.
“Parliament faithfully reflects the view of that majority and it will make its voice heard. No-deal would be a betrayal of the 2016 referendum result. It must not happen.”
Warning of the economic impact of a no-deal Brexit, the former chancellor also claimed leaving the EU without a divorce agreement would risk peace in Northern Ireland and “the likely break-up of the UK”.
After a no-deal Brexit, Mr Hammond argued the UK would be left “a diminished and inward-looking little England”.
His comments prompted an immediate spat with Downing Street, with a Number 10 source pouring scorn on Mr Hammond’s record in Theresa May’s government.
They said: “Hammond actively undermined the government’s negotiating position by frustrating and obstructing preparation to leave the EU.
“Everyone knows the ex-chancellor’s real objective was to cancel the referendum result.”
Mr Hammond subsequently responded on Twitter, posting: “Wrong. I want to deliver Brexit – and voted to do so three times.
“But ‘No Deal’ is a far cry from the highly optimistic vision presented by the Leave campaign – and there is no mandate for it.”
Mr Hammond is expected to join forces with fellow ex-ministers from Mrs May’s government to act against a no-deal Brexit when parliament returns from its summer recess next month.
He was among 21 Tory MPs to write to Mr Johnson this week as they urged the prime minister to confirm he is “committed to doing a deal” with the EU, accept any deal will require “compromise”, and to reiterate his view that the chance of a no deal is “less than a million to one”.
“This will reassure not only us, but also the currency markets,” they wrote, adding that the prime minister’s current “red lines” on abolishing the Irish border backstop appear to “eliminate the chance of reaching agreement with the EU”.
John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has vowed to fight “with every bone in my body” any government attempt to bypass parliament in the pursuit of a no-deal Brexit.
Responding to Mr Hammond’s intervention, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps accused the ex-chancellor of hindering the UK’s negotiations with the EU by failing to prepare properly for a no-deal Brexit.
He told Sky News: “After three years I’d point out very gently to Mr Hammond that what he was doing in terms of preparation wasn’t exactly working.
“Parliament itself rejected the deal he was involved with three times, it’s clearly not going to go through that withdrawal agreement.
“Part of the reason we didn’t get the right deal is we didn’t prepare in the right way so it didn’t look like we were serious.
“This time we are leaving on 31 October, deal or no deal.
“We’ll be ready to leave with no deal, if that’s what we need to do, but actually our central aim is still to get a deal and we’ll see what happens.”
Labour shadow education secretary Angela Rayner told Sky News: “I want to pay tribute to those Conservatives who are speaking out.
“Because I think it’s really important the whole of parliament recognises that a no-deal Brexit will be disastrous for our economy.”