Philip Hammond drops major hint he could try to block next PM's no-deal Brexit plan from the backbenches
Philip Hammond has dropped a clear hint that he could vote to stop the next Conservative leader taking Britain out of the European Union without a deal.
In what could be his final stint at the Commons despatch box as Chancellor, Mr Hammond said it would be a job for Parliament - of which he would “proudly” continue to be a member - to ensure a no-deal exit “doesn't happen”.
The comments came as Mr Hammond launched a fresh attack on Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt’s tax and spending plans by warning of a £90bn black hole in the UK finances under a “disruptive” exit.
Both Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt have made clear that they would be willing to leave the EU without a deal if talks with Brussels over an agreement stalled.
But, challenged by Labour’s John McDonnell to commit to “doing everything he possibly can” to block a no-deal Brexit, Mr Hammond said he had been “consistently clear” that such an outcome would be “bad for the British economy”.
The Chancellor said: "We cannot, however, rule out that that could happen because it is not entirely in our hands.
“But I do agree with him that it would be wrong for a British government to seek to pursue no-deal as a policy.
“And I believe that it will be for the House of Commons, of which I will continue proudly to be a member, to ensure that that doesn't happen."
Speaking after Treasury questions, Mr McDonnell said the Chancellor “represents a certain bloc” in the Tory party who he believed would do everything possible to prevent no-deal.
He said his aim at the despatch box had been to “draw out Philip Hammond into a much clearer and more vehement demonstration of not just how he feels but his attitude and how he will behave in the future”.
Mr McDonnell meanwhile said he expected other MPs to follow Mr Hammond’s lead, as he predicted that the Chancellor could be “one of the most influential backbenchers to align himself” with Labour’s position - although he denied formal talks were taking place
“There is a solid bloc, I can’t estimate exact numbers, who are making it clear already to both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt they wouldn’t support no deal and would do everything possible to oppose it," he told a briefing for reporters.
£90BN NO-DEAL WARNING
Mr Hammond has already been sharply critical of pledges by both leadership candidates to spend the more than-£25bn worth of so-called “headroom” stored up by the Treasury, which the Chancellor made clear he had only intended to spend if MPs passed an EU deal.
And he told Liberal Democrat MP Chuka Umunna on Tuesday that the cost to the public finances of a no-deal exit could be tens of billions of pounds higher.
“We've built up around £26-27bn of fiscal headroom,” Mr Hammond said, as Treasury colleague Liz Truss - a key backer of Mr Johnson’s leadership bid - looked on.
He added: “I have no doubt whatsoever that in a no-deal exit we will need all of that money and more to respond to the immediate impacts of the disruption of a no-deal exit.
“And that will mean that there is no money available for longer-term either tax cuts or spending increases.
“But let me go further. The Government's analysis suggests that in a disruptive no-deal exit there will be a hit to the exchequer of about £90bn.
“That will also have to be factored in to future spending and tax decisions.”
MCDONNELL BOOK GIFT
The round of Treasury questions also saw Mr Hammond handed a leaving gift by Mr McDonnell.
The Shadow Chancellor paid tribute to his Tory opponent’s “dry sense of humour” - as he handed Mr Hammond a copy of the London guidebook ‘Rebel Footprints’ - described by its publishers as a “truly radical response to conservative heritage tours and banal day trips”.
The move echoed the 2015 moment when Mr McDonnell handed Mr Hammond’s predecessor George Osborne a copy of the Little Red Book, by Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong.
Mr Hammond quipped: “I much prefer this Little Red Book to the one that he gave to my predecessor, although I have to say I haven’t read this one and I have read the other one.”