Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has shied away from her previous claim that a no-deal Brexit would cause “generational damage” – although she admitted it would be “far worse” than leaving the EU with a divorce agreement.
Ms Rudd last month surprisingly kept her role during new Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle, despite having been one of the fiercest opponents of a no-deal Brexit in Theresa May’s government.
Mr Johnson has vowed to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October “do or die” and has acted to “turbo-charge” preparations to leave the bloc without a deal in 79 days’ time.
Ms Rudd, who once claimed Mr Johnson is “not the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening”, rejected suggestions she is a “sellout” for dropping her objections to a no-deal Brexit in order to keep her cabinet job.
In her first public comments since deciding to serve under Mr Johnson, the cabinet minister said: “A no-deal Brexit is definitely going to be a challenge for the economy, which is why the government is putting together so much preparation should it come to that.
“We’re very clearly focused as a government that we want to get a deal.”
Challenged about her previous claim – made in a letter to constituents in March – that a no-deal Brexit would “do generational damage to our economy and security”, Ms Rudd failed to reiterate that view.
She said: “A no-deal Brexit would be far worse than a deal Brexit, which is why the government is so focused on trying to get that.
“But we’re also putting in place a lot of preparations to make sure that, should it come to that, we will have done all we can to mitigate against any difficulties.”
Ms Rudd also denied she is a “sellout”, adding: “In this job, everybody will launch some sort of criticism about whatever decision you made.
“I made a decision to back a candidate in the leadership race, which initially was Jeremy Hunt who was very clear that we needed to have no deal as part of the armoury in a negotiation.
“And, having done that, I made my own decision to compromise on that basis and to go ahead and then Prime Minister Boris Johnson put his cabinet together.”
The work and pensions secretary revealed she had been “frank” with her former cabinet colleagues who ruled out serving in Mr Johnson’s government due to their opposition to a no-deal Brexit.
Ms Rudd said none of them had expressed their disappointment in her decision to stay in government, but admitted “they may say so privately”.
Less than two months ago, Ms Rudd stated her belief there are enough Conservative MPs who would be willing to bring down a government intent on a no-deal Brexit.
And, with parliament due to return from its summer recess next month, Ms Rudd said on Tuesday: “There’s been a lot written about what would happen when parliament comes back, and we will have to wait and see.”
However, despite a number of eye-catching public spending pledges from Mr Johnson in his first few weeks in 10 Downing Street, Ms Rudd insisted an early general election is “just not on the agenda”.
Labour MP Virendra Sharma, a supporter of the Best for Britain campaign for a second EU referendum, said: “It may not help her career, but Amber needs to start telling the truth about no-deal again.
“She knows Brexit will kill our economy and stopping it would be best for Britain.”