UK cabinet ministers to be told to stop leaking details
Theresa May to remind ministers of need for confidentiality despite her flagging authority
Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond: comments that trains were so easy to drive “even a woman” could do it were leaked. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/Reuters
Theresa May will on Tuesday tell ministers to stop leaking details of cabinet meetings, following a succession of disclosures and days of infighting among ministers. The prime minister’s official spokesman said she would use Tuesday’s cabinet meeting to remind ministers of the need for confidentiality.
“Cabinet must be able to hold discussions on government policy in private and the prime minister will be reminding her colleagues of that at the cabinet meeting tomorrow,” the spokesman said.
“She’ll just be reminding them of their responsibilities and making the point that ministers across government need to be focused on getting on with delivering for the British public.”
Philip Hammond, the chancellor of the exchequer, has suggested that Brexiteer ministers are behind the leaking of some of his remarks at cabinet last week. He was reported to have said that public sector workers were overpaid and that trains were now so easy to drive that “even a woman” could do it.
Brexiteers view the chancellor with suspicion because he wants to prioritise the economy and business interests over immigration and sovereignty in the negotiations with the EU. He has angered colleagues in spending departments too, however, by ignoring their calls to ease austerity and increase public service pay.
Education secretary Justine Greening on Monday announced increased funding for schools after head teachers warned that funding shortages would mean cutting staff and subject choices. But she told MPs the money would come from savings in other parts of her department, including the cancellation of capital projects.
Former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine said on Monday the cabinet leaks were a symptom of Ms May’s weakness, which was undermining Britain’s negotiations with the EU.
“She can’t sack leading Brexiteers because she has no authority. So you have an enfeebled government. Everybody knows this. I don’t like saying it, but I’m not telling you anything that every journalist is not writing every day,” she said.
“The Europeans have worked it all out. This is a government without authority. This is a deeply divided government and what they know, what the Europeans know, and what our national press knows is every day there’s a more depressing headline.”
The 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers wrote to the prime minister last week offering support for her to remain until the Brexit negotiations are completed in 2019. But a shadow leadership contest is already under way, with supporters of Brexit secretary David Davis, foreign secretary Boris Johnson and others briefing against one another.
‘Thick as mince’
Dominic Cummings, campaign director of Vote Leave and a former adviser to environment secretary Michael Gove, claimed on Monday the government was poorly prepared for Brexit. In a flurry of tweets, he suggested that neither the prime minister nor her cabinet understood the so-called Repeal Bill, which will transpose EU rules into British law.
He claimed that the Bill would allow the government to change its negotiating stance up to the last minute and suggested that Mr Davis was preparing to betray Brexiteers by backing a soft Brexit.
“[Davis] is manufactured exactly to specification as the perfect stooge for [cabinet secretary Jeremy] Heywood: thick as mince, lazy as a toad, and vain as Narcissus,” Mr Cummings tweeted.
Former prime minister David Cameron said on Monday that the Conservatives need to offer a more inspiring vision of a caring society if they are to win younger voters back from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.
“You don’t win the argument in favour of free enterprise, free markets, choice and liberal democracy and then pack up and go home. You have to win the argument in every generation,” he told the Evening Standard.