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Hammond warns Johnson against 'betraying' referendum with no-deal Brexit

REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Boris Johnson would commit a betrayal of the referendum if he enacted a no-deal Brexit by listening to the "unelected" saboteurs "who pull the strings" of his Government, former chancellor Philip Hammond has argued.

Mr Hammond, who resigned in anticipation of Mr Johnson becoming Prime Minister, urged the Tory leader to take the UK out of the European Union with a deal in place.

But he said early signs for that "are not encouraging", warning that demands to abolish the backstop had become a "wrecking" stance over a deal.

"The unelected people who pull the strings of this Government know that this is a demand the EU cannot and will not accede to," the Tory backbencher wrote in The Times on Wednesday.

Mr Hammond said he was busting two "great myths" over a no-deal Brexit, arguing it will be damaging to the nation - both economically and to the union - and that voters do not back the move.

"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," he wrote.

"Parliament faithfully reflects the view of that majority and it will make its voice heard. No-deal would be a betrayal of the 2016 referendum result. It must not happen."

Mr Hammond also accused "some key figures in the Government" of "absurdly" suggesting no-deal would boost the UK's economy.

According to The Sun, Mr Hammond and 20 other senior Tories have written to the PM to say his demands to abolish the backstop "set the bar so high that there is no realistic probability of a deal being done".

And The Sun reported that a separate letter with a similar sentiment was sent to the PM with the signatures of Mr Hammond and 20 other senior Tory MPs, including former Cabinet ministers David Lidington, David Gauke, Rory Stewart and Greg Clark.

A Government source accused Mr Hammond, who went on to deny the claim, of having done "everything he could to block preparations for leaving and undermined negotiations" when chancellor.

"We are leaving on October 31 and we will be ready to do so despite the former chancellor's best efforts to the contrary," the source added.

Meanwhile, Speaker John Bercow warned he "will fight with every breath in my body" any attempt by the PM to suspend Parliament to force through no-deal against MPs' wishes.

And Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said she would urge Mr Johnson not to take that controversial move as part of his "do or die" commitment for Brexit by the October 31 deadline.

Mr Bercow told an audience at the Edinburgh Fringe festival that he "strongly" believes the House of Commons "must have its way", in remarks reported by the Herald newspaper.

"And if there is an attempt to circumvent, to bypass or - God forbid - to close down Parliament, that is anathema to me," he said.

"I will fight with every breath in my body to stop that happening."

Ms Rudd warned that the Government must not work against MPs by proroguing Parliament.

"I will play my part in Cabinet and privately with the Prime Minister and with ministers in arguing strongly for respecting parliamentary sovereignty," she told the BBC.

"And you know, I'm a Member of Parliament, the Prime Minister and all Cabinet members are Members of Parliament, we need to remember where our authority comes from."

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Mr Johnson conceded he expects negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal with the US would be a "tough old haggle".

But he said he remains confident that the UK "will get there".

His remarks came in response to US President Donald Trump's national security adviser, who said the UK would be "first in line" for a deal.

John Bolton added that it could occur on a "gradual sector-by-sector" basis.

But Mr Johnson's Brexit plans may be jeopardised early next month after a court agreed to fast-track a hearing on whether he can legally prorogue Parliament.

A judge in Edinburgh agreed to expedite a legal challenge from anti-Brexit campaigners including more than 70 MPs and peers.

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