No-deal Brexit would betray Britain: Ex-finance minister

Former finance minister Philip Hammond quit as chancellor just hours before Boris Johnson took over from Theresa May as Prime Minister on July 24.
Former finance minister Philip Hammond quit as chancellor just hours before Boris Johnson took over from Theresa May as Prime Minister on July 24.PHOTO: AP

LONDON • A no-deal Brexit would betray Britain's decision to leave the EU, former finance minister Philip Hammond said yesterday, as he slammed Prime Minister Boris Johnson's "wrecking" approach to negotiations.

Mr Hammond, who quit as chancellor just hours before Mr Johnson took over from Mrs Theresa May on July 24, said there was no popular or parliamentary mandate for a no-deal Brexit, adding that most people wanted an orderly exit from the European Union.

"No-deal would be a betrayal of the 2016 referendum result. It must not happen," Mr Hammond wrote in The Times newspaper.

He said it could turn Britain into "a diminished and inward-looking little England".

Britain's Parliament three times rejected the withdrawal deal Mrs May negotiated with Brussels, with many MPs troubled by the "backstop" - a mechanism that would keep Britain in EU Customs arrangements to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Mr Hammond said the shift of position, from seeking changes to the backstop to demanding its removal, "is a pivot from a tough negotiating stance to a wrecking one", setting an impossibly high bar.

"This is a demand the EU cannot, and will not, accede to. It's time for our government to demonstrate its commitment to a genuine negotiation with the EU to achieve a deal."

Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct 31. Mr Johnson has pledged to stick to this date, whether or not a deal can be struck with Brussels. Mr Hammond said a no-deal Brexit would also threaten Britain's integrity as it risked collapsing the peace accords in Northern Ireland and triggering a referendum on the province leaving Britain and joining the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.

It would also lead to a second secession referendum in Scotland and the likely break-up of the UK, Mr Hammond claimed.

He also said talk by the United States of a "great trade deal" meant a trade deal that was great for them, opening up Britain to American produce that would "destroy British agriculture".

Mr Hammond warned that if Parliament wanted to go down a particular route to prevent a no-deal Brexit, the means would emerge to allow that to happen.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2019, with the headline 'No-deal Brexit would betray Britain: Ex-finance minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe