Boris Johnson has hit out at what he described as a “terrible collaboration” between MPs and the EU trying to block Brexit, as he refused to rule out shutting down parliament and holding a general election after leaving on 31 October.
The prime minister said the longer the standoff continued the more likely a no-deal Brexit was becoming, despite previously saying the chances of crashing out of the EU were “a million to one” given goodwill on both sides.
Speaking live on Facebook, where he answered pre-selected questions from members of the public, Johnson appeared to be rehearsing an election campaign argument that the EU and pro-remain MPs will be to blame if there is no deal.
His argument is that the EU will not offer any concessions if it believes parliament will stop a no-deal Brexit, and as such he claims that MPs opposed to no deal are actually making it more likely.
“There’s a terrible collaboration, as it were, going on between people who think they can block Brexit in parliament and our European friends,” he said.
“And our European friends are not moving in their willingness to compromise, they’re not compromising at all on the withdrawal agreement even though it’s been thrown out three times, they’re sticking to every letter, every comma of the withdrawal agreement – including the backstop – because they still think Brexit can be blocked in parliament.
“The awful thing is the longer that goes on, the more likely it is of course that we will be forced to leave with a no-deal Brexit.
“That’s not what I want, it’s not what we’re aiming for but we need our European friends to compromise. The more they think there’s a chance that Brexit can be blocked in parliament, the more adamant they are in sticking to their position.”
In reality, it is Johnson who is refusing to sit down for talks on a deal with the EU unless the 27 member states agree publicly to ditch what he calls the “undemocratic backstop” and provide a new agreement.
Brussels has said the backstop is an essential component of a deal because it prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland, but critics say it could trap the UK indefinitely in a customs union.
Johnson lashed out at MPs trying to stop a no-deal Brexit after Philip Hammond and 19 other Conservatives wrote to him expressing concern that he had set the bar too high for a revised deal by demanding red lines such as abolition of the backstop.
The former chancellor said it was clear MPs could prevent Johnson taking the UK out of the EU without a deal on 31 October, calling it a “betrayal of the referendum” and suggesting advisers in Downing Street have no intention of negotiating a new deal.
Hammond expressed scepticism about the prospect of a national unity government taking over after a no-confidence vote, but said that if parliament was unable to agree on a way to honour the referendum result, a referendum or general election was inevitable.
Any attempt to bypass parliament would provoke a constitutional crisis, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday.
During the Facebook live event, marketed by No 10 as a “people’s prime minister’s questions”, Johnson read out a question to himself about whether he would schedule an election for the days after Brexit is due to happen on 31 October – and declined to rule that out.
“I think the British public have had a lot of elections and electoral events,” he said. “There was the election in 2015, the referendum in 2016, another election in 2017. I think what they want us to do is get on and deliver Brexit on 31 October. I never tire of telling you that’s what we’re going to do”
He claimed to be subjecting himself to a grilling from the public “unpasteurised, unmediated” from his desk in Downing Street, but had a choice about what he answered, including soft questions about what he would do to protect the union and one about knife crime that allowed him to talk about his record as mayor of London, which is a favourite topic.