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Chancellor and Boris in all-out Brexit war

The Cabinet split over Brexit erupted into a bitter all-out war last night after allies of Boris Johnson went on the attack against Philip Hammond.

In an unprecedented clash between the great offices of state, the Foreign Secretary’s supporters claimed that Theresa May’s Florence speech had thwarted the Chancellor’s bid to lock Britain into a five-year transition period after Brexit.

Mr Hammond’s camp reacted swiftly and furiously, calling it ‘total bulls***’. Mr Johnson’s allies then claimed that his bombshell article last weekend had stopped Mr Hammond from forcing the Prime Minister to adopt a soft Brexit.

Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond have split amid a major clash over the direction of Brexit

Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond have split amid a major clash over the direction of Brexit

Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond have split amid a major clash over the direction of Brexit

The Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary were forced to sit next to each other while Prime Minister Theresa May delivered her Brexit speech to an audience in Florence on Friday 

The Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary were forced to sit next to each other while Prime Minister Theresa May delivered her Brexit speech to an audience in Florence on Friday 

The Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary were forced to sit next to each other while Prime Minister Theresa May delivered her Brexit speech to an audience in Florence on Friday 

PM Theresa May had brokered a peace deal between her chancellor and foreign secretary which has been shattered according to insiders in both men's camps

PM Theresa May had brokered a peace deal between her chancellor and foreign secretary which has been shattered according to insiders in both men's camps

PM Theresa May had brokered a peace deal between her chancellor and foreign secretary which has been shattered according to insiders in both men’s camps

But Mr Hammond’s ally exploded: ‘I f****** hate having to deal with Boris on this level. What a shame he feels the need to do this. He is surely not suggesting that his article altered policy which had been worked up for months? The Chancellor has always been in favour of a two- to three-year transition.’

The extraordinary row has shattered the fragile truce brokered by Mrs May before her speech in Italy on Friday – and makes a mockery of Mr Johnson’s claim that the Cabinet were like ‘a nest of singing birds’ in their unity.

In other developments following a tumultuous week at Westminster:

Mr Hammond was said to have been so ‘livid’ over an attack by a former aide to Mrs May that an official was dispatched to Downing Street to discover whether it had been sanctioned by No 10;

  • Leading Tory backbencher Anna Soubry accused Mr Johnson of ‘complacency and hubris’ and said his ‘leadership bid’ lay ‘shredded’;
  • Insiders claimed Mr Johnson was ‘set up to fail’ by Mrs May when she made him Foreign Secretary;
  • A Mail on Sunday poll revealed more than half of voters did not trust Mrs May to deliver a good Brexit deal following her Florence speech;
  • Plotters urged Mr Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove to threaten a joint resignation at last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting if Mrs May announced plans for a ‘soft’ Brexit;
  • An ally of Brexit Secretary David Davis claimed that up to 50 Tory MPs want Mrs May to step down. Other rebels put the figure at just under 30.

At Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, Ministers agreed that Mrs May should propose a two-year transition after Brexit from March 2019, and make a ‘generous offer’ to pay a divorce bill of at least £20 billion.

The Foreign Secretary’s 4,000-word article last weekend had overshadowed the run-up to Mrs May’s speech and triggered fresh speculation about his leadership ambitions. His allies suggested his intervention reduced the transition period and stopped Mrs May adopting the so-called ‘Norway model’, in which the UK would stick to EU rules for access to the single market – claims that the Chancellor’s camp rubbished.

Mr Johnson, pictured, claimed credit for reducing the transition period from five to two years

Mr Johnson, pictured, claimed credit for reducing the transition period from five to two years

Mr Johnson, pictured, claimed credit for reducing the transition period from five to two years

But the Johnson ally said: ‘Boris managed to get the transition period down massively.

‘The Treasury originally wanted up to five years, and Hammond was pushing for four years recently. Before his article we were heading towards a Norway model – now we end up leaving completely.’

During the Cabinet meeting, Mr Hammond was seen ‘rolling his eyes’ at remarks by Brexit supporters.

Relations between Mr Hammond and Mrs May have also been cool. The main flashpoint has been her former chief of staff Nick Timothy – dubbed ‘Rasputin’ because of the beard he used to sport – who Mr Hammond believed was trying to influence Mrs May in favour of a hard Brexit.

The pair clashed repeatedly before Timothy resigned over the Election disaster, but tensions flared up again after Timothy publicly accused the Chancellor of being ‘on manoeuvres’ and failing to ever ‘mention the positives of leaving the EU’.

The Treasury believes Timothy still exerts an influence over Mrs May, and even contributed to the Florence speech. A source said: ‘Philip cannot believe that Timothy is still out there attacking him. An official tried to discover what No 10 had known about it, and was told it was nothing to do with anyone there.’

A new opinion poll said Mrs May, pictured, is only trusted by 34 per cent to deliver Brexit

A new opinion poll said Mrs May, pictured, is only trusted by 34 per cent to deliver Brexit

A new opinion poll said Mrs May, pictured, is only trusted by 34 per cent to deliver Brexit

Mr Hammond’s hand has also been strengthened by this weekend’s cut in the UK’s credit rating by Moody’s, which it attributed to the ‘economic uncertainty’ of Brexit – a development he has warned of.

Last night, Remain-supporting Tory MP Anna Soubry, an ally of Mr Hammond, joined the attack on Mr Johnson, telling The Mail on Sunday: ‘Mrs May put Boris Johnson back in his box by making it abundantly clear that she is the person in the driving seat. Beside her is the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, whose wise advice on Brexit has clearly been heeded. After the Florence speech, Boris’s leadership bid lies like last week’s newspaper article: shredded in Larry the No 10 cat’s litter tray.’

Ms Soubry added that ‘like Icarus, Boris’s flight as Foreign Secretary has been marred by both complacency and hubris. His inevitable crash from the highest office will no doubt be cushioned by a lucrative newspaper column’.

But former Brexit Minister David Jones warned Mrs May that he and other Leave-supporting MPs ‘will maintain a relentless watch to make sure there is no backsliding’.

He added: ‘Two years is quite long enough. She rightly ruled out Hammond’s preference for a three-year stint or longer in the EU departure lounge.’

Mr Timothy denies contributing to Mrs May’s Florence speech and says that No 10 did not know in advance that he was going to criticise the Chancellor. A Treasury spokesman said she was ‘not getting into’ the issue of his role. 

Explosive feud that has spiralled into a political battle to the death

By GLEN OWEN 

The explosive feud between Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond is starting to look like a fight to the political death.

Friday’s speech in Florence was the culmination of three months’ work by Theresa May’s Downing Street team, guided by one overwhelming imperative – how to tread a credible line between the ‘soft’ Brexit supporters and ‘hard’ Brexiteers of the party without alienating either wing.

Hammond and Johnson have become the personification of this schism: the cool, technocrat Remainer versus the Brexit barnstormer.

More than half of voters believe a split in Theresa May's cabinet will harm the chance of the PM being in a position to secure a good Brexit deal from the European Union 

More than half of voters believe a split in Theresa May's cabinet will harm the chance of the PM being in a position to secure a good Brexit deal from the European Union 

More than half of voters believe a split in Theresa May’s cabinet will harm the chance of the PM being in a position to secure a good Brexit deal from the European Union 

One third of voters believe the Prime Minister will be able to deliver a good deal for Brexit

One third of voters believe the Prime Minister will be able to deliver a good deal for Brexit

One third of voters believe the Prime Minister will be able to deliver a good deal for Brexit

The Chancellor has been a longstanding and vocal advocate in the Cabinet of a transitional period of two to three years, during which businesses would retain access to the single market, to limit the economic disruption.

Boris – once he had made up his mind which side to back in the referendum – has increasingly assumed leadership of the hard Brexiteers. Friends say it is because he feels bound by the promises he made during the referendum, including returning £350 million a week to the NHS from Brussels. Critics, meanwhile, say it is because he is a political opportunist playing to the predominantly Eurosceptic party members who will elect the next leader.

Either way, Mr Johnson – and the court which surrounds him – have become determined to paint him as the pivotal figure in shaping May’s vision for Brexit in Florence. Feeding this determination is a personal sense of frustration which seems absent in Mr Hammond.

Since being made Foreign Secretary by Mrs May last year, in the aftermath of his referendum victory, Mr Johnson has seen the crucial Brexit negotiations hived off from his department and handed to Brexit Secretary David Davis, while the critical post-Brexit global trade negotiations are being run by Liam Fox.

Mr Johnson – who grew up wanting to become ‘world king’ – has been reduced to the ‘air miles king’, jetting to far-flung outposts of the globe while the key decisions are being made back in Whitehall.

This, according to well-placed sources, was always the intention: to dilute his power base and allow Mrs May to govern without his distracting interventions.

The trigger moment for Mr Johnson was discovering that Ministers had met in London to thrash out a key draft of the Florence speech while he was combing through the debris of Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean.

He fired off his 4,000 word Brexit opus to the Telegraph and now – despite claiming with a straight face that the Cabinet was ‘a nest of singing birds’ – he seems determined to take centre stage in the Brexit process.

It has inevitably led to conflict with Mr Hammond: earlier this summer, the Chancellor heaped ridicule on the Foreign Secretary’s famous claim that he was ‘pro cake and pro-eating it’ by saying, in reference to Brexit: ‘A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece’, adding: ‘I try and discourage talk of “cake” among my colleagues.’

In return, Mr Johnson’s friends say he sees Mr Hammond as ‘George Osborne Mark Two’ – hence the swipe in his article at Mr Osborne’s notorious ‘project fear’ warnings about the damaging effects of Brexit, saying archly that ‘so far’ Mr Hammond had not followed suit.

As one ally of the Chancellor puts it: ‘Philip has become frustrated over Boris’s apparent inability to engage on the details of Brexit, the problems and how to overcome them. He has tried to talk to him on this but Boris always seems to respond with just the headlines.

‘He always resorts to bluster rather than specifics. It’s this that Philip has found so annoying.’

No one was fooled by the two men’s choreographed side-by-side departure from No 10 after last week’s Cabinet meeting, with one Tory MP calling it a ‘preposterous pretence’.

Soon one of them is likely to be leaving the door for good.

CONSERVATIVE MP ANNA SOUBRY: PM MAY HAS PUT DISRUPTIVE BORIS BACK IN HIS BOX

Anna Soubry, pictured, believes the PM has put Boris 'back in his box' 

Anna Soubry, pictured, believes the PM has put Boris 'back in his box' 

Anna Soubry, pictured, believes the PM has put Boris ‘back in his box’ 

In her speech in Florence, Theresa May bought the UK much-needed time by hitting the Brexit ‘pause’ button.

But the Prime Minister did much more – she made it clear that she is in the driving seat.

Next to her is her Chancellor Philip Hammond, whose wise advice on Brexit has been heeded.

Thankfully, Boris Johnson and the other disruptive children are now where they belong – strapped into kiddy seats behind the PM.

The Foreign Secretary studied the Classics so he will be familiar with the story of Icarus, the talented son who ignored his father’s advice and flew too close to the sun on wings of wax.

Like Icarus, Boris’s decisions have been marred by hubris and complacency. His leadership bid – seen by many as having been launched with last week’s 4,000-word newspaper article on Brexit – lies in tatters. His inevitable fall will no doubt be cushioned by a lucrative newspaper column and a warm welcome from rebellious Tory backbenchers.

In Italy last week – and having put Boris firmly back in his box – Mrs May used the opportunity to redefine the terms of Brexit. The British economy is now at the core of plans to deliver a status quo transition period, something I’ve long advocated and which should provide us with the stability and certainty British businesses desperately need.

As Brexit unfolds, I fear Leave voters will realise they have been conned. Quitting the EU will not be easy; there’s no £350 million-a-week extra for the NHS and we will still have to incorporate EU red tape into British law.

But unless the British people change their minds, the country is now en route to Brexit with a decent road map.

Of course, more details still need to be thrashed out. But Mrs May’s sensible transition not only delivers for our economy in the short term, it gives us and the EU more time to work out a deal.

The Prime Minister’s strategy is already working. The hard Brexiteers’ guns have fallen silent and a truce between warring Tories has emerged. Now Mrs May must refresh her Government. There is real talent in the 2015 intake that needs bringing on. Middle-ranking Ministers need a shake-up; some must make way for the next generation.

Ms Soubry said Mrs May's strategy is already working with a truce between factions

Ms Soubry said Mrs May's strategy is already working with a truce between factions

Ms Soubry said Mrs May’s strategy is already working with a truce between factions

Mrs May’s Cabinet also needs an overhaul. Out must go the ‘only average’ Ministers – even though they have served her well with their loyalty – and in must come the political heavyweights.

Margaret Thatcher surrounded herself with talent from all quarters – and Mrs May must place ability higher on her list of Cabinet attributes than mediocre personal loyalty. There are some fine brains and sharp operators who deserve promotion and others of equal talent who should return to Government.

Most people in the street are sick and tired of talk of Brexit. All they want is for us to tackle serious issues on the domestic front. Our great public services need sustainable funding and modernising to meet our changing society. We’ve started to deliver better education and training. Now we need to up our game.

We don’t just want to build new homes; we must create better communities that value people, their health and their well-being as well as our environment.

The list is lengthy.

And while Theresa May is at it, the Conservative Party itself needs revolutionary reform to create a well-oiled, thoroughly modern political machine to take on Jeremy Corbyn’s socialism, as well as making the case for compassionate one-nation Conservatism. 

DAVID JONES, FORMER BREXIT MINISTER: IT’S US LEAVERS WHO CAN CLAIM ‘CAUTIOUS VICTORY’

Since she became Prime Minister, Theresa May has been doing a high-wire act over Brexit.

Domestically, she is treading a fine line between the conflicting demands of impatient Leavers and inconsolable Remainers.

And in her dealings with the EU, she has to show a positive approach to the negotiations while making it clear the UK’s decision to leave is irreversible.

Theresa May, pictured, has been doing a high-wire act over Brexit 

Theresa May, pictured, has been doing a high-wire act over Brexit 

Theresa May, pictured, has been doing a high-wire act over Brexit 

It has been a huge challenge.

To her credit, Mrs May did not fall off the high wire in Italy. In a speech delivered in Florence, but aimed squarely at London and Brussels, she kept her balance.

She set out a pathway to Brexit that kept faith with the British people’s decision in last year’s referendum. But she also calmed the fears of Remainers over a so-called hard Brexit. And by confirming that Britain will honour financial commitments made during the period of our membership, she made an open and generous offer to the EU.

So of the two camps at Westminster, it is the Leavers who will be happier today.

Domestically, Mrs May is treading a fine line between the conflicting demands of impatient Leavers and inconsolable Remainers over the form Brexit takes

Domestically, Mrs May is treading a fine line between the conflicting demands of impatient Leavers and inconsolable Remainers over the form Brexit takes

Domestically, Mrs May is treading a fine line between the conflicting demands of impatient Leavers and inconsolable Remainers over the form Brexit takes

Firstly, the Prime Minister banished any suggestion of a transition period that drags on and on. There was, admittedly, still some lack of clarity. Frankly, I would have preferred the Prime Minister not to have spoken of an implementation period of ‘around’ two years.

Leavers such as myself will maintain a relentless watch to make sure there is no backsliding over this transition period.

Two years is quite long enough.But she clearly and rightly ruled out arch-Remainer Philip Hammond’s repeated preference for three years or longer.

Secondly, Mrs May made it clear that membership of the European Economic Area or some similar arrangement – where we would be entirely subject to EU rules but have no role in shaping them – was not for us. Because of its sheer size and economic importance, the UK deserves a special arrangement which is in everybody’s interest – both the EU’s and ours – to achieve.

And, most importantly, Mrs May ruled out any role for the European Court of Justice after we formally quit the EU in March 2019. No country can call itself a sovereign nation if the rulings of a foreign court remain supreme in its territory.

However, Mrs May’s speech still left unanswered questions.

How much should we pay in ‘honouring our financial commitments’ during the transition phase? Speculation that the figure could be as much as £20 billion is deeply worrying.

What will be the status of EU nationals who come here during the implementation period? We must assume the upcoming Immigration Bill will make things clearer. And will the UK be able to make free trade deals with other countries around the world during the transition phase? It is vital that we should.

But, while more clarity is needed, her speech showed her determination to see an independent UK – committed to a positive relationship with our European neighbours.

Of course, Mrs May’s carefully-crafted words will mean nothing if chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier rebuffs them and opts to inflict economic damage on European citizens because of a determination to punish the UK.

In that case, they should understand that our position remains that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’.

We can, and should, simply walk away and pay nothing to Brussels. But for now, Mrs May is still safe on the high wire. Just. 

 

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