Former U.K. Finance Minister Philip Hammond seen in July, 2019.
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The U.K.‘s reputation as a pillar of political stability has certainly been tarnished by the Brexit crisis, according to the country’s former finance minister, but a “sensible” departure from the European Union might eventually be seen as “democracy in action.”
Speaking to CNBC’s Dan Murphy at the SALT Conference in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, Philip Hammond said there can be “no doubt” that the U.K.’s reputation as a haven of stability had been “dented” by Brexit, “but there is all to play for.”
His comments come just two days before voters in the U.K. head to the ballot box. The vote is likely to decide whether the world’s fifth-largest economy leaves the bloc next month or moves toward another EU referendum.
“If we now demonstrate that we can deliver a sensible Brexit that satisfies the millions of people who voted to leave the European Union, that does it in a way that protects the U.K. economy, then actually, when a few years have elapsed and people look back, maybe they will see this as an example of democracy in action rather than a system in meltdown,” Hammond said.
How will Johnson ‘interpret’ Brexit?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sought to frame the upcoming ballot as the “Brexit election,” promising to deliver his so-called “oven-ready” divorce deal and take the country out of the EU by Jan. 31.
In contrast, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has said that, if elected, his left-leaning Labour party would hold another EU referendum within six months. This vote would offer Britain the choice between a “credible” renegotiated leave deal — including a customs union and close single market relationship with the EU — or the option to remain.
Johnson’s center-right Conservative government holds a commanding lead in the latest opinion polls and Hammond expects the former London mayor to secure a working parliamentary majority later this week.
“The question for me is what Boris Johnson will do with the undoubted authority that he will gain from being the first Conservative prime minister for 25 years to obtain a decent working majority in parliament.”
The Houses of Parliament on October 23, 2019 in London, England.
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The last Conservative Party leader to form a single-party government with a parliamentary majority was David Cameron in 2015, when the former prime minister unexpectedly secured a slender 11-seat majority in 2015. Hammond appeared to be referring to John Major’s parliamentary majority of 21 seats in the 1992 general election.
“He can use that to deliver a Brexit which protects the British economy, allows him to deliver on many of his ambitions for public services, for reduced taxation. Or, he can use it to deliver a hard Brexit which means that we will struggle to deliver on those promises because the economy will be in a much worse position,” Hammond said.
“So, it is going to be all up to him to decide how to interpret Brexit once we have left the European Union,” he added.
Hammond, who lost the Conservative Party whip in October after opposing to leave the EU without a deal, has repeatedly clashed with Johnson over Brexit.
Last month, the former finance minister said in a letter to his constituents in Runnymede and Weybridge that it was with “great sadness” he would step down as a Member of Parliament (MP) at the upcoming election.
In an apparent swipe at more hard-line Conservative lawmakers, Hammond said he would continue to promote a “broad-based, forward-looking, pro-business and pro-markets center-right party.”