LONDON (AFP) - Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Tuesday (May 28) that Britain's governing Conservative Party would be committing "political suicide" if it tries to force through a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Hunt, who is among the 10 candidates vying to replace the outgoing Mrs Theresa May as Britain's prime minister, said trying to take the UK out of the European Union without a deal would trigger a general election in which the Conservatives risked being "annihilated".
He said the centre-right party would face an existential threat, with voters who supported staying in the EU defecting to the pro-EU Liberal Democrats and those who supported leaving the EU heading to the Brexit Party.
"The results contain a simple message which we ignore at our peril: if we attempt a general election before we have delivered Brexit, we will be annihilated," Mr Hunt wrote in The Daily Telegraph newspaper.
"Attacked by the Brexit Party on the right and the Liberal Democrats on the left, we will face extinction. Any candidate for prime minister whose strategy leads inexorably to a general election is offering a prospectus for disaster."
Mr Hunt said any prime minister who promised to leave the EU by a specific date, without the time to renegotiate and pass a new deal, would effectively be committing to a general election because Parliament would bring down the government.
"Trying to deliver no deal through a general election is not a solution. It is political suicide," he wrote.
Rival leadership candidates, including former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, have said Britain must be prepared to leave the EU without a deal.
Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct 31, while the next general election is not due until 2022.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who is also running for the Conservative leadership, is prepared to offer free British citizenship to three million nationals who resided in the UK at the time of the June 2016 referendum, several newspapers reported on Tuesday.
Mrs May will step down as Conservative leader on June 7 and stay on as prime minister until her successor is chosen - a process that should be concluded by July 20.
Housing Minister Kit Malthouse is the latest contender to enter the leadership race.
He headed up the so-called Malthouse Compromise - a plan drawn up by pro- and anti-Brexit Conservative MPs intended to find a way through the impasse and get a divorce deal with Brussels.
"We need to end the Brexit paralysis, and while I voted to leave the EU, I know that without unity across the UK, we cannot get a deal over the line," he wrote in The Sun newspaper.