Theresa May could struggle to hang on to power if she cannot get her Brexit deal through Parliament before the European elections, the Foreign Secretary has warned.
Jeremy Hunt said the “total focus” of ministers was to ensure the country did not have to vote in the elections to the European Parliament on May 23.
Speaking during a visit to Japan, he acknowledged that the Government would be facing a “very serious situation” if it failed to do so.
Under the terms of the latest extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process agreed last week by EU leaders, Britain can call off the elections if the Prime Minister’s deal is passed by the Parliament before polling day.
Many Tory MPs are furious that the elections may have to take place at all, amid warnings that the party is likely to suffer heavy losses if they go ahead.
Mr Hunt acknowledged that the party could be heading for a “disastrous” showing at the polls if the country was required to vote.
“In terms of polling it certainly looks that way,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“That is why we don’t want to be in those polls from a political point of view, but actually the bigger principle for people in Britain is that we voted to leave the EU and they want the politicians to get on with it.”
That would be a very serious situation – I don’t pretend otherwise – but we aren’t at that point
Mr Hunt said it would be “highly, extremely, very, very challenging” for Mrs May if she was not able to get her deal through.
“That would be a very serious situation – I don’t pretend otherwise – but we aren’t at that point,” he said.
“I think the closer we get to that point the more my colleagues in the House of Commons will realise how high the stakes are.”
He said talks with Labour – aimed at finding a cross-party consensus on the way forward – were proving “more constructive” than many at Westminster had expected.
“I don’t think we should rule out the possibility of getting some agreement across the House of Commons. It can’t just be the Conservatives,” he said.
“This is the total focus of not just Theresa May, but the whole Cabinet as well. It is time to put our shoulders into it and really make this happen.”
Mr Hunt acknowledged however that the talks may not be successful, in which case he suggested the Conservatives might have to go back to the DUP to find a way forward.
“We don’t know if they are going to work and it may be that we need to find a way to rebuild the Conservative-DUP coalition,” he said.
The DUP MPs, who prop up the Conservatives at Westminster, have, however, made clear that they will not support the deal unless the Northern Ireland “backstop” is removed – something the EU has said it will not countenance.
Mr Hunt, who is widely expected to be a candidate for the leadership when Mrs May does step down, refused to be drawn on his own ambitions.
But, speaking in Tokyo following talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he said the continuing uncertainty over Brexit was damaging Britain internationally.
He said that other countries feared the UK would become “submerged in the mire of Brexit indecision”.
“It is absolutely clear that Brexit paralysis, if it continues for a long time, will be highly damaging to our international standing,” he said.
Ahead of his meeting with Mr Abe, Mr Hunt, who is fluent in Japanese, visited a local high school where he spoke to the pupils in their native tongue.
Afterwards he tweeted: “If my kids grow up to be half as intelligent and well behaved as the children at Tokyo Metropolitan Hibiya High school this morning I’ll be a very proud Dad.
“Great to be teaching English in Japan again after a 20 year gap.”