Philip Hammond Says He Will Not Back Election As Brexit Crisis Looms

Rachel Wearmouth
Former chancellor Philip Hammond in Whitehall, Westminster

Philip Hammond will refuse to back Boris Johnson’s call for a general election as the Brexit crisis continue to engulf the UK government. 

The ex-chancellor tore chunks out of the prime minister’s “reckless” spending commitments and no-deal pledges, adding he would not back an early poll. 

Speaking to the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, he also said striking non-EU trade deals - for which the UK must leave the customs union and risk crisis at the Northern Irish border - would “make only tiny contribution” to boosting the economy.

Johnson is meeting the Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar later today to try and thrash out a solution to the border crisis, with the Brexit deadline due on October 31. 

Next week the government will bring forward a new Queen’s Speech and Johnson will again repeat his demand for an early general election. 

The PM has repeatedly said he will not seek an extension to the Article 50 deadline, despite MPs backing legislation called the Benn Act which will force him to do so should the country still be facing no-deal on October 19. 

“I don’t think an election solves our problem here. I would not support an election at the moment,” said Hammond, who was among 21 Tory MPs thrown out of the parliamentary Tory party over his defiance of the PM on Brexit. 

“Ironically, a few weeks ago we were being asked to give assurances that we wouldn’t vote against the government in a vote of no confidence and now we’re being asked to vote to turn the government out.”

He said a confirmatory referendum, which some MPs are pushing for, “is not my preferred option”, but did not rule one out.

Hammond wants a customs deal in order to preserve the value of UK-EU trade as he said third country trade deals would expose the country to economic damage, 

“For too long we have allowed this narrative around third country trade deals to shape everything that we do,” he said. 

“A common customs area solves the problem of the Irish border. The reason we have not gone there is because it does not allow those third country trade deals. 

“First of all, it will be incredibly difficult to negotiate without doing great harm to the UK’s economy and social fabric, and, secondly, all the analysis shows they would make only a tiny contribution to the UK’s GDP and our standard of living whereas losing access to European markets would make a huge hit to GDP and hugely reduce our standards of living.” 

Johnson has also made a significant number of spending pledges, including money for numerous hospital upgrades, a hike in the minimum wage and 20,000 new police officers. 

But Hammond said the Conservatives should look to balance the books.  

He said: “The economy is slowing down and the government has made a number of very significant spending commitments and I do worry that the Conservative Party’s core message for many, many years whether people like us or loathe us has been that we are a responsible party with the economy and the public finances.

“And I do worry about a strategy which is reckless about our economic future in terms of advocating no-deal Brexit and reckless about our public finances in terms of spending money that, frankly, at this point in the Brexit negotiation, we cannot be sure we have available.” 

Speaking on the same programme, business minister Kwasi Kwarteng said Johnson and Varadkar remain “seriously focused” on trying to get a deal.

Kwarteng said a “good chance” to get a deal remains.

“I think that we want a spirited compromise. We want to be able to make sure that the backstop has been taken away,” he said.

He later added: “The reason the prime minister is meeting Leo Varadkar isn’t simply to have a social conversation, they are seriously focused on trying to resolve this issue and trying to get a deal on which basis we can leave the EU.”

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