Philip Hammond: I would sooner boil my head than hand power to Corbyn

Philip Hammond has claimed Boris Johnson is increasing the “risk” of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government, insisting he would “sooner boil my head” than hand power to the Labour leader.

The former Conservative chancellor also criticised the “mass purge” of Tory MPs who defied the Government over plans to block a no-deal Brexit on October 31, which saw him and 20 colleagues losing the party whip.

Alistair Burt, another former Conservative minister now sitting as an Independent, said he would leave Parliament “looking up at the sky, not down at my shoes” as he questioned “who is next?” when it comes to the “purge” of the party.

Their remarks came as MPs debated the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill, which aims to extend the Brexit process beyond October 31 unless a deal is approved by Parliament or Parliament agrees to a no-deal exit by October 19.

Speaking during the second reading debate, Independent MP Mr Hammond said the Bill is not about undermining the Prime Minister’s negotiating position or handing power to Labour.

He said: “I would sooner boil my head than hand power to the Leader of the Opposition.”

Mr Hammond added: “Most of us will have no truck with a vote of no confidence.

“The purpose of this Bill is to instruct this Government and this administration how to conduct the UK’s future arrangements with the European Union.

State of the parties in the House of Commons
(PA Graphics)

“It is not an attempt to remove this Government, it is certainly not an attempt to hand power to the Leader of the Opposition.”

Mr Hammond said Mr Johnson is the one risking a Labour government by insisting on the complete removal of the Northern Irish backstop when negotiating with the EU, something, he said, they can not comply with.

He said: “It is not us who are heightening the risk of a Government led by the Opposition, it is my right honourable friend by pursuing a course of action which, if unchallenged, can only lead to a no-deal Brexit”.

Mr Burt earlier said he did not complain about losing the party whip but questioned “how this looks” following other departures.

He said: “What are people going to think about what we have left and what we have lost?

“Some will have been very happy at the fact that some have been purged – purged.

“A few weeks ago one of our colleagues retweeted an article in the Daily Telegraph that looked forward to the purging of ‘remoaners’ in the Conservative Party. That was disgraceful.

“I say to my colleagues, if we’re being purged now, who is next? Watch a film called Good Night And Good Luck and you’ll take my point.”

Mr Burt noted this may be his last substantive speech in the Commons, adding: “I will walk out of here looking up at the sky, not down at my shoes.”

Introducing the Bill, Labour MP Hilary Benn said: “I think wherever we stand on this issue, we know there is very little time left and, following the decision on prorogation, there is even less time than would have been available previously.”

He added: “The purpose of the Bill is very simple.

“It is to ensure that the United Kingdom does not leave the European Union on October 31 without an agreement.”

Mr Benn also said: “You could describe it as a somewhat unlikely alliance, but what unites us is a conviction that there is no mandate for no-deal, and that the consequences for the economy and for our country would be highly damaging.”

He went on: “We must in my opinion secure that extension to Article 50 otherwise there is a risk that the election would result in us leaving without a deal, which as it may turn out at 7 o’clock tonight is not what the House of Commons wants and we should respect that.”

Conservative MP Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) called on Mr Benn to admit his Bill does not stop no-deal and instead extends the UK’s exit from the EU.

Mr Double said: “Can we be clear – this Bill does not stop no-deal, it simply prolongues how long we take to leave.

“If you want to stop Brexit, revoke Article 50 and be honest with the country.”

Following an intervention by SNP MP Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) who called for Article 50 to be revoked, Mr Benn said that he was against revocation.

He said: “Just as a no-deal Brexit is unacceptable, I believe revocation is not acceptable either.”

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