WATCH George Osborne urges Theresa May to rule out 'Russian roulette' no-deal Brexit
Theresa May should stop playing "Russian roulette" with the economy and tell businesses that a no-deal Brexit will not happen, George Osborne has said.
The Conservative former Chancellor said his successor in the job, Philip Hammond, had been "sensible" to reassure companies that MPs were likely to team up force a delay to the Article 50 Brexit process.
But he urged the Prime Minister to do the same and predicted that a delay to Brexit was now the "most likely" outcome of the current parliamentary wrangling over a way forward.
Mr Osborne told the BBC: "Well the gun is held to the British economy's head, if you like.
"You know, Russian roulette is a game which obviously you should never play in which there is a one in six chance that the bullet goes into your head.
"And if you start pretending that we might leave without a deal then that might become reality.
"And I think it's interesting that my successor Philip Hammond has sensibly told British business leaders that that's not a possibility. But we now need to hear it from the British Prime Minister."
Mr Osborne - who played a key role in the 2016 referendum campaign to try and keep Britain in the European Union - was sacked from the Cabinet by Mrs May when she first entered Number 10.
He told the BBC that a second referendum on Brexit could help to break the current parliament logjam - but warned MPs that it was "no good just asserting there's a majority" against a no-deal Brexit.
"I think at the moment delay looks like the most likely option because at least that gives some space to explore whether there's an alternative deal on the table," Mr Osborne said.
"I doubt there is, but it's worth exploring - or indeed whether we need to resolve this through a referendum."
CABINET ROW OVER FREE VOTE
The intervention from the former chancellor came amid signs of a fresh Cabinet split over demands for Tory MPs to be given a free vote on delaying Brexit.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd had warned the Prime Minister that a string of ministerial resignations could follow if Tory MPs are whipped to oppose a cross-party move to extend Article 50 should the Commons fail to get behind a deal.
But The Telegraph reports that the call prompted an angry response from other Cabinet ministers, with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt branding the warning that up to 40 ministers could quit "unhelpful".
Environment Secretary Liz Truss, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt are also reported to have spoken out against the plan to give MPs a free vote at yesterday's Cabinet meeting.
Amid signs that Number 10 will reject the demand for a free vote, a senior Conservative source told The Times: "It would be absurd to give these people a free vote.
"It’s not as if there aren’t many backbenchers who couldn’t do a ministerial job just as well if not better than the incumbents or that this is a government that is so stuffed with talent that the public would be aghast if it lost some of their number."
Mrs May is also facing pressure from three senior ministers to back an amendment tabled by Conservative MP Andrew Murrison that would impose a time limit on the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.
The Independent reports that Mr Hunt, Ms Mordaunt and Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom want the PM to support the amendment if it is selected for a vote next week in a bid to show Brussels that MPs would get behind a version of her deal which curbed the arrangement.
Brexiteers and the DUP fear that the backstop - which would be triggered if no permanent way to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland can be found - would see the UK indefinitely bound to EU customs rules.
Dr Murrison said his proposed tweak would set "an expiry date to the backstop" and allow "moderate MPs" to support Mrs May's deal.
But such a move is likely to be met with deep scepticism in Brussels, which has repeatedly insisted it cannot impose an end date on what it sees as the only way to avoid disruption at the border if talks break down.
Irish PM Leo Varadkar said the UK and Ireland would have to negotiate a bilateral agreement including the "full alignment" of customs to avoid a hard border if Britain leaves the bloc without a deal.