Downing Street has declined to rule out the possibility of Boris Johnson resigning as prime minister if he fails to secure a general election or a Brexit deal.
And pressed on whether he would quit if he was unable to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October, the prime minister himself said only: “That is not a hypothesis I am willing to contemplate.”
Speculation over a possible resignation was fuelled when Mr Johnson said on Thursday that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than go to Brussels to ask for an extension to Brexit negotiations.
Legislation due to complete its passage through parliament on Monday will require him to do this unless he has first secured a Brexit deal or parliamentary approval for no-deal.
Mr Johnson is expected to fail on Monday in a second attempt to trigger a general election on 15 October, with opposition parties planning to reject the proposal, which requires a two-third majority in the House of Commons.
The PM and his advisers believe that a snap election would allow him to obtain a Conservative majority large enough to vote through a no-deal outcome if no agreement is reached at a crunch Brussels summit on 17 October.
But Labour, Liberal Democrats and other opposition parties are thought to have agreed to withhold their support for a poll until after the PM has requested an extension to the UK’s Brexit deadline to 31 January.
A Downing Street spokeswoman was asked at a regular Westminster media briefing whether Mr Johnson’s comments indicated he would resign rather than request an Article 50 extension.
She replied: “I think that the PM has made his position on extension clear a number of times this week. In relation to MPs and the decisions that they are facing, the PM has said that the current position is unsustainable and that MPs should consider over the weekend whether they are prepared to face up to the consequences of their actions this week in passing a bill that wrecks our negotiations and seeks to impose an indefinite delay to Brexit.
He has been very clear that they must take responsibility for their actions and face the public in a general election, and MPs will have a chance to do that on Monday.