A NO-deal Brexit would “crush” Cumbrian farmers and must be prevented at all costs, insists MP Rory Stewart after resigning from the cabinet over the issue.

The Penrith and The Border MP returned to the back benches this week after quitting as International Development Secretary.

It follows the appointment of Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister.

Mr Stewart, who had stood against him in the leadership contest, always said he could not serve in Mr Johnson’s cabinet after clashing over the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal.

After sticking to his guns, he explained why it was such a red line to him.

“I think the key thing for me is to protect our farmers in Cumbria,” he explained.

Mr Stewart claimed a no-deal Brexit would both open the UK up to cheap meat imports and shut off exports to the European Union.

He claimed that many local farmers do not fully understand the impact a no-deal would have on tariffs - explaining that the EU could not risk meat being imported from New Zealand and Argentina, then sold into Europe on the cheap.

It would therefore have to hike up tariffs. “They have to protect themselves, and we would be crushed between the two,” he said.

Mr Stewart had gone as far as saying - during an interview on ITV’s Peston on Sunday political show - he could not stand as a Conservative candidate in a general election if he had to back a no-deal.

However he told The Cumberland News he now thinks that is unlikely.

“Having spoken to people since, I don’t think Boris would make us run on a no-deal,” said Mr Stewart. “He wouldn’t just lose me, he’d lose dozens of MPs.”

Responding to questions about whether he respected the views of the majority of Cumbrians who voted to leave, he stressed that he wasn’t trying to stop that happening. But he said it had to be with a deal. Asked whether he still supports Theresa May’s failed deal, the Penrith MP said: “I think it’s still the deal that works best for farming.”

However he added: “It doesn’t have to be exactly that deal, but it has to be a deal that protects tariffs for the European market and protects us from cheap imports.”

Asked whether he felt Mr Johnson could strike a new agreement with EU leaders, Mr Stewart said: “I do not think there’s a possibility of negotiation.”

Earlier this week Carlisle’s Conservative MP, John Stevenson, said that no-deal might be the only answer if the EU won’t budge.

He said: “I’ve always maintained that I would prefer a deal. That would be in the interests of Europe and ourselves, but it always takes two sides to negotiate.

“We’ve got to see what the EU are willing to do. They know the Irish backstop in unacceptable. I’d rather it wasn’t, but it [no-deal] may well come to being the only solution.”

Nationally, Mr Johnson’s appointment of hardline Brexiteers to key cabinet posts and Jacob Rees-Mogg to the influential role of Leader of the House of Commons has been seen as a move to push through a no-deal Brexit.

The new Prime Minister has been clear that the UK will leave the EU on October 31, regardless of whether a new agreement has been reached. But Mr Stewart disagreed, instead claiming that Mr Johnson does not have enough support to push it through.

“The majority of Parliament do not support a no-deal. The only way it could’ve got through is if they had suspended or prorogued Parliament. We have stopped that from happening,” he said.

Asked whether he would now be working to derail Mr Johnson’s no-deal Brexit plan, Mr Stewart said: “You have to try to be responsible and think about the economy of Cumbria. It would be devastating. Farmers are in a fragile situation. People voted to leave, but via an orderly, responsible Brexit. The majority of MPs are in favour of Brexit but hard-line Brexiteers are refusing to vote for a deal. I would say to them, if you want Brexit, be responsible.”

Mr Stewart will spend the next three weeks walking the UK, visiting urban areas, finding out more about issues such as poverty and immigration from those directly affected.