Hammond Hints He Could Quit Cabinet Over No-Deal Brexit

(Bloomberg) -- Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond suggested he could quit the government in protest if the U.K. plunges out of the European Union with no deal in nine weeks’ time.

Hammond said he’s working inside Theresa May’s administration to avoid leaving the EU without an orderly divorce agreement in place, warning there is a “very real” risk of a no-deal Brexit. Asked if he would resign in the event of a chaotic no-deal split, the chancellor declined to rule it out.

“I’m not going to speculate because a lot depends on the circumstances of what happens,” Hammond told BBC Radio 4 when pressed to say if he could quit. “Now I clearly do not believe that making a choice to leave without a deal would be a responsible thing to do, but I recognize that that is potentially a default that we could find ourselves in.”

In other developments Friday:

  • Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar warned a hard border could see soldiers sent to the U.K.-Ireland frontier. "It would involve customs posts. It would involve people in uniform and it may involve the need, for example, for cameras, physical infrastructure, possibly a police presence, or an army presence to back it up," he told Bloomberg TV in Davos, Switzerland.
  • Varadkar said he won’t give up the contentious backstop guarantee against a hard border for a promise to solve the issue at a later date. He also blamed Britain for the Brexit difficulties and said it’s up to May’s government to offer a solution.
  • Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party are set to back May’s deal if she secures a time-limit on the backstop, according to a report in the Sun newspaper.
  • May’s office said Britain isn’t ready to open new talks with the EU but is working on ideas for resolving concerns over the backstop. “Clearly if we are to leave with a deal, we’re going to need to make some changes to it,” her spokesman James Slack told reporters.
  • Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom said the EU might grant the U.K. a short period of time after March 29 for Parliament to approve Brexit legislation. “We do, in spite of everything, have a very strong relationship with our EU friends and neighbors, and I am absolutely certain that if we needed a couple of extra weeks or something then that would be feasible,” she told BBC TV.

May faces a series of votes next week in Parliament on various possible alternatives to the deal that’s now on the table. The government is opposing moves by rank-and-file politicians to force May to delay the exit day rather than crash the U.K. out of the EU without an agreement.
Some ministers, including Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd -- who has also declined to rule out quitting in the event of no-deal -- want May to allow them a free vote on the amendments on Tuesday. Hammond suggested he may have sympathy for this view.

“Personally, I don’t think Jan. 29 has to be the sort of high noon moment -- there will be other opportunities for Parliament to express its view,” Hammond told Bloomberg TV in Davos. “It’s a great British tradition to compromise and find a solution rather than standing throwing rocks at each other from different sides of the argument.”

Hammond said leaving the EU without a divorce agreement in place would be a very bad result. He predicted that the warring factions will agree to a compromise under time pressure as the clock ticks down to exit day on March 29.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.