The chancellor has rejected suggestions Brexit should be delayed – saying the “ticking clock” will “focus minds” and ensure Theresa May gets an exit deal passed in time.
Speaking to Sky News at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Philip Hammond dismissed calls from some MPs for Article 50 – the legal mechanism a country triggers to leave the EU – to be extended.
Mr Hammond told Sky’s economics editor Ed Conway: “The problem with that suggestion is that it is pretty clear, if you look at the situation, the only thing that is pushing people at all towards pragmatic compromise is the ticking clock and the deadline.
“I’m afraid if you remove the deadline, you would run the risk of just entrenching people in their positions advocating for their preferred solutions, rather than coming to a compromise.
“All negotiations tend to move towards a compromise position only as you get to the deadline.
“So I’m afraid deadlines, as uncomfortable as they are, do serve a purpose in the negotiating process.”
The prime minister triggered Article 50 in March 2017, beginning a two-year countdown in which Britain has to negotiate the terms of its exit with Brussels and then get the agreement signed off by Parliament.
If no agreement is in place at the end of this period, Britain will leave without a deal and revert to trading with the bloc under World Trade Organisation rules.
A number of MPs have tabled amendments in the Commons in an attempt to block a “no-deal” scenario, which they say will damage the economy.
Mrs May is also coming under pressure from her ministers to rule it out.
Following reports a group of nearly 20 ministers have been meeting to discuss plans to stop a “no-deal” Brexit, the prime minister faced a series of interventions from members of her government.
Chief among these was Amber Rudd, with the work and pensions secretary using a TV interview to refuse to rule out resigning if the UK heads for a “no-deal” divorce.
Mr Hammond’s comments will be seen as a rebuke of those ministers.
The chancellor expressed “hope” of winning round opponents of Mrs May’s deal, specifically on the issue of the Irish border backstop.
The controversial insurance policy – which is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event Britain and the EU cannot agree a free trade deal – is seen as the main sticking point to getting the PM’s deal through Parliament.
Mr Hammond said: “I know there are sensible people having discussions behind the scenes, but we will have to pursue that and that’s the prime minister’s clear intention, to press this with her European colleagues, but to do so in a sensible way that recognises their concerns as well.”
The chancellor was pressed on what he would do if – to use his language “god forbid” – there was no deal.
Mr Hammond said there would be an “absolute obligation to manage that situation to minimise the impact”, a hint that he would seek to stay on.