Former chancellor Philip Hammond attacks Boris Johnson's no-deal Brexit strategy

Ben Gartside
Boris Johnson, left, and Philip Hammond belong to rival Tory camps on Brexit. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA/Getty

Former UK chancellor Philip Hammond has called a no-deal Brexit a “betrayal” of the 2016 EU referendum, decrying “unelected” officials making demands the EU "cannot, and will not, accede to".

Writing for The Times, Hammond said he had opted "to keep quiet and give the prime minister the time and space to set out his plan to deliver a Brexit deal", but that initial signs were "not encouraging".

He added: "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."

Johnson has vowed to achieve Brexit by 31 October, and has ramped up preparations for a no-deal in the event that he cannot strike a fresh deal with the European Union, which has ruled out reopening the Withdrawal Agreement.

Hammond warned that no-deal was not an "acceptable outcome", as he pushed back at the idea that blocking such an outcome would "challenge the expressed will of the British people".

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"To pretend now that 2016 Leave voters voted for a hard, no-deal Brexit is a total travesty of the truth.”

Hammond advocated a middle-ground approach similar to that of Theresa May towards the end of her premiership, saying: "The hardliners may make the most noise but they are not the most numerous. 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.”

Hammond’s intervention sparked ire from Number 10, with a senior Downing Street source saying: "Philip Hammond actively undermined the government’s negotiating position by frustrating and obstructing preparation to leave the EU ... everyone knows that the ex-chancellor’s real objective was to cancel the referendum result."

Hammond hit back, saying those claims were "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."

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Hammond’s intervention in The Times comes as a letter he signed along with seven other former cabinet ministers was leaked to The Sun.

The letter, signed by 20 Tory MPs, says: "We are alarmed by the ‘Red Lines’ you have drawn which, on the face of it appear to eliminate the chance of reaching agreement with the EU.

"Any deal has to be a compromise, and many commentators feel that you have set the bar so high that there is no realistic probability of a deal being done.

"We would therefore greatly appreciate your confirmation that you remain committed to doing a deal, that you accept that any such deal will most likely require compromise, and that it remains your view that the chance of No Deal is 'less than a million to one'."

These interventions come as sources close to pro-EU Tory MPs indicate the fight against a no-deal Brexit will gather pace over the coming weeks.