Ken Clarke has delivered a downbeat assessment of the UK’s economic prospects, warning that a “double dip” recession was still a real possibility.
The former chancellor - now serving in the Cabinet as Justice Secretary - said a “fresh wave of global fear and crisis” could push the country back into the red.
The comments risked comparisons with a more optimistic claim from David Cameron that Britain was now out of the “danger zone”.
Speaking ahead of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Mr Clarke set out a bleak view of global and UK economic prospects.
“I’m at the more pessimistic end,” he said. “I’m not sunnily optimistic about where the Western economy is going.”
Mr Clarke said he believed the chances of the UK being sucked into another recession were “below 50 per cent” and “less likely than not”.
But he added: “I do not rule out the risk of a double dip recession caused by some fresh wave of global fear and crisis.”
Mr Clarke stressed that he was completely committed to the coalition’s plans for deep public spending cuts - despite expressing concerns about aggressive curbs before the general election.
However, the Government’s actions may not guarantee a return to sustained growth because of wider forces beyond its control.
“What I am worried about is global uncertainties and us being hit by downturns in key markets,” Mr Clarke said.