By William James and Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s finance minister on Thursday warned those in his party vying for Prime Minister Theresa May’s job that a no-deal Brexit would endanger the economy, as frontrunner Boris Johnson earned praise from U.S. President Donald Trump.
May’s departure deepens the Brexit crisis as a new leader, who should be in place by the end of July, is likely to want a more decisive split, raising the chances of a confrontation with the EU and potentially a snap parliamentary election.
Johnson, the bookmakers’ favorite to succeed May, has said the United Kingdom should leave the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal.
Finance Minister Philip Hammond disagreed.
“We need to get the specter of a no-deal exit off the table,” he told the BBC. “Leaving with no deal would be a very bad outcome for the economy.”
In Washington, ahead of a state visit to Britain next week, Trump told reporters he had great respect for Johnson and considered him a friend, but declined to say he supported him to succeed May. He also praised anti-EU campaigner Nigel Farage, of the rival Brexit Party.
Hammond, underlining his view on a no deal, indicated he could be prepared to vote to collapse his party’s government if he felt it was heading in the wrong direction.
The United Kingdom was supposed to have left the EU on March 29 but its politicians are still arguing over how, when or even whether the country will leave the club it joined in 1973.
That political failure caused car production to collapse last month as factories shut down in expectation of a Brexit that never came, according to data published on Thursday.
No deal means there would be no transition so the exit would be abrupt. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said that could be akin to the 1970s oil shock.
May’s government has repeatedly warned of the disruption a no-deal Brexit would cause for everything from pet tourism to the import of crucial medicines and supply chains that criss-cross Europe and beyond.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the danger of such an outcome had risen with May’s departure announcement, and pledged to do everything he could to stop it.
Brexit supporters admit there may be some short-term disruption but that in the long term the United Kingdom would thrive outside what they cast as an undemocratic and excessively bureaucratic project dominated by Germany.
Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton told reporters in London that the president would do whatever he could to help Britain with Brexit, downplaying its long-term consequences.
“You know America declared its independence once – we made out okay,” he said.
Eleven Conservative lawmakers to have declared they are running for May’s job.
Hammond, asked if he could be a candidate, said his Brexit views had made him unpopular with some sections of the party but did not rule out entering the contest to argue his case.
“I hope this contest does not degenerate into a competition to see who can make the biggest spending or tax cutting pledges,” he said. “The Conservative Party has a very strong reputation, well deserved, for being fiscally responsible.”
Ireland’s foreign minister said the EU would not renegotiate a withdrawal agreement with the next British prime minister, but that there would be “scope for new thinking” on the wider Brexit package.
Nevertheless, May’s successor will be bound by most of the constraints that saw her fail three time to get parliamentary backing for an exit deal, leaving open the option of a national election or a second referendum to resolve the country’s future.
Labour is also divided over what happens next. Corbyn said on Wednesday any new referendum could not be a simple re-run of the 2016 Remain or Leave vote.
(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and John Stonestreet)