Philip Hammond says Tory leader hopefuls must prove they won't become 'Theresa May II' on Brexit
Tory leadership hopefuls need to prove they will not end up as "Theresa May Mark II" on Brexit, Philip Hammond has said.
The Chancellor warned contenders hoping to succeed Mrs May as Prime Minister that they could become stuck in the same "holding pattern" which ended her premiership, as he urged them to "stop pontificating" and focus on getting an EU deal through Parliament.
Many of those in the running back re-opening the withdrawal agreement struck by Theresa May as a way of ending the Brexit deadlock in an attemept to renegotiate a new deal which could win the support of MPs.
But Mr Hammond told BBC Newsnight: "My challenge to all the candidates is explain to me how you will avoid becoming Theresa May Mark II, stuck in a holding pattern.
“And an extension of time to try to renegotiate, when the EU have already said they have finished the negotiation and, indeed, have disbanded their negotiating team, strikes me as a not very auspicious policy."
A string of contenders for the top job, including frontrunner Boris Johnson, have said they would be prepared to take Britain out of the European Union without a deal in October if necessary.
Mr Johnson used a video marking the official launch of his leadership campaign on Monday to declare: "If I get in we'll come out deal or no deal on October 31. We'll do that."
Meanhile it was reported over the weekend that fellow candidate Michael Gove is prepared to delay Brexit until late 2020 in a bid to avoid quitting the EU in October without an agreement.
"No deal would be catastrophic for the country and the economy and no Brexit would be seen as a gross breach of faith with the public, with the electorate, and would undermine our political system," he warned.
"So we as democrats, and we as parliamentarians, should be absolutely clear that we cannot tolerate either of those outcomes.
"We have a solemn obligation to find a solution which avoids both of those outcomes. That means that even at this late stage, a deal."
And he called on MPs to "stop pontificating, get off their high horses and understand that we will all have to give up something to get to a deal that will work".
The Chancellor said: "We will all be grumpy about it, we will all be dissatisfied. But in many ways that is the only way forward for the country."
His comments came as HuffPost reported that Mr Johnson is now well ahead of his Tory leadership rivals in the quest to secure the backing of MPs.
Allies of the former Foreign Secretary told the site that more than 80 Conservative backbenchers were now privately signed up to his campaign - a quarter of the parliamentary party.
The campaign is reportedly holding back public endorsements in a bid to build momentum when the leadership contest formally kicks off next week.
But one rival camp cast doubt on the figures, saying: "Boris was meant to have big numbers in 2016 - look how that ended."
Mr Johnson was forced to shelve his 2016 bid for the Conservative leadership after former ally Michael Gove broke away to launch his own doomed campaign.
A rolling tally of publicly-declared supporters by the Guido Fawkes website currently has 36 MPs behind Mr Johnson, followed by 26 backers for Mr Gove.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is on 23 MPs, while ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab boasts 22 backers, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has 16, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock is on 12.