Philip Hammond has piled fresh pressure on Theresa May by declining to rule out quitting if the UK went through with a no-deal Brexit.
The chancellor said “a lot depends on the circumstances” after being repeatedly asked whether he could remain in the UK’s top financial post if the prime minister decided to take the UK out of the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement.
His comments on BBC Radio 4’s Today came after he had told the programme that a no-deal Brexit would cause “significant” disruption and damage to the economy, and that it went against what Leave voters had been told before the 2016 referendum.
It also follows work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd hinting she could resign from the government to stop the UK crashing out of the EU without an agreement.
Rudd, a prominent Remain supporter, said she was going to “wait and see” if May allows a free vote on a series of amendments to her Brexit “Plan B” on Tuesday.
But Downing Street later suggested Tory MPs and ministers would not be granted free votes.
The prime minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “The government’s position will be set out to MPs and ministers in the usual way in advance of the vote and as always all members of the government will be expected to support that position.”
Number 10 also gave Hammond a minor slapdown for saying a no-deal Brexit would not fulfil the result of the 2016 referendum.
“I think the referendum gave people a clear choice between leaving the European Union and remaining in the European Union, they voted to leave,” the spokesman said.
Asked about his future in a no-deal scenario, Hammond, who is in Davos at the World Economic Forum, told Today: “I’m not going to speculate because a lot depends on the circumstances, what happens.
“The responsibility I have is to manage the economy in what is the best interests of the British people.
“I clearly do not believe that making a choice to leave without a deal would be a responsible thing to do, but I recognise that that is potentially a default that we could find ourselves in, and if we did find ourselves in that position then the responsible thing to do is to use every possible way of mitigating and minimising the impact.”
But he faced scathing criticism from shadow chancellor John McDonnell.
The Labour frontbencher said: “Other cabinet members, like Amber Rudd, are standing up to the prime minister. As chancellor, he knows how bad a no-deal Brexit would be for the jobs and livelihoods of our people and yet he won’t come out and stand up to Theresa May.
“In interview after interview he avoids the question and passes the buck. He did it again this morning. There’s a word for it. It’s gutless.”
Meanwhile, French foreign minister Bruno Le Maire warned May the EU was not willing to give concessions on the Irish border backstop.
Speaking at Davos, Le Maire said: “I’m afraid we have nothing to give.
“An agreement is an agreement and the responsibility of Brexit is clearly on the shoulders of the British government, not on the shoulders of the governments of the EU member states.”
It came as the Queen spoke in favour of individuals seeking “common ground” and “never losing sight of the bigger picture”, comments which have been interpreted by some as a veiled reference to the toxic mood of the public debate around Brexit.
The monarch, in a speech to mark the centenary of the Sandringham Women’s Institute, also extolled the virtues of “respecting” the other person’s point of view.