Pressure has mounted on the Prime Minister to rule out a no-deal Brexit after Amber Rudd repeatedly refused to say if she would resign from Government to stop the UK crashing out of the EU without an agreement.
The Work and Pensions Secretary said she was going to “wait and see” if Theresa May allows a free vote on a series of amendments to her Brexit “Plan B” on Tuesday.
During an interview on BBC Two’s Newsnight, Ms Rudd, a Remain supporter, was asked three times whether she would quit the Cabinet to back a bid by Labour’s Yvette Cooper to extend Article 50 unless a deal is reached by the end of February, and she refused to rule it out.
Ms Rudd told the programme she is “committed to making sure we avoid no-deal”, which she described as “the worst possible outcome”.
It came after a string of union bosses visiting Downing Street for talks on Mrs May’s Plan B urged the Prime Minister to take no-deal off the table or ask for an extension of the two-year Article 50 negotiation period.
Business Minister Richard Harrington declared he is happy to be sacked by the PM if she objects to him speaking out about the dangers of leaving without an agreement on March 29.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Philip Hammond told a business audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos that a no-deal Brexit would be “a betrayal of the promises that were made” to voters in the 2016 referendum.
And in one of the starkest business warnings to date, Airbus chief executive Tom Enders branded the Government’s handling of EU withdrawal a “disgrace” and said the company could pull out of the UK if Brexit undermines its ability to compete.
Mr Enders said the UK’s multibillion-pound aerospace sector is “standing at a precipice”.
He said: “Brexit is threatening to destroy a century of development based on education, research and human capital.
“If there’s a no-deal Brexit, we at Airbus will have to make potentially very harmful decisions for the UK.”
Airbus senior vice-president Katherine Bennett later said the Government had asked the company to “make clear the potential impact of a no-deal”.
But a Downing Street spokeswoman insisted there is “no knowledge in Number 10” of any request.
Mr Harrington said he was “delighted” Mr Enders is “telling it like it is” on Brexit.
The minister told an audience of German industrialists that crashing out without a deal would be “a disaster for business”, adding: “I really don’t believe in this idea. I am very happy to be public about it and very happy if the Prime Minister decides I am not the right person to do the business industry job.”
The Number 10 spokeswoman said Mrs May continues to have full confidence in Mr Harrington, adding: “The Prime Minister expects ministers to be focused on getting the Government’s deal through.”
Addressing a CBI lunch in Davos, Switzerland, Mr Hammond said “the only credible and sustainable solution” for the Government is to deliver EU withdrawal in a way which protects the economy.
“Not leaving would be seen as a betrayal of that referendum decision. But leaving without a deal would undermine our future prosperity, and would equally represent a betrayal of the promises that were made.”
Emerging from Downing Street after talks with Mrs May, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said she had not received the guarantees unions are seeking on jobs and workers’ rights.
“The Prime Minister should do the right thing and take no-deal off the table so that genuine dialogue can take place,” said the TUC boss.
Mrs May should “stop listening to the bad boys at the back of the class” who play down the risks of departure without agreement, she said.
Unite leader Len McCluskey said he told her companies are putting investment on hold because of uncertainty over the outcome.
Urging Mrs May to extend Article 50 by three months, Mr McCluskey said: “I cannot conceive any prime minister taking us out of Europe with a no-deal. It would be catastrophic.”
Unison’s Dave Prentis said a no-deal Brexit “must be avoided at all costs”, while GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “We can’t carry on like this. As this crisis worsens, pretending nothing has changed is simply not good enough.”