Boris Johnson warned of ‘fight of a lifetime’ over deselection threat

Former chancellor Philip Hammond says move against rebel Tory MPs is ‘rank hypocrisy’

Former British chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire

Former British chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire

 

Former UK chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond has warned Boris Johnson he will face the “fight of his life” if he tries to deselect him as a Conservative party candidate.

Mr Hammond, who resigned as chancellor in July immediately prior to Mr Johnson’s election as Tory party leader, is among a group of rebel Conservatives seeking to stop the British prime minister from bringing about a no-deal Brexit.

Tory MPs who work with Labour and other opposition parties to seize control of the House of Commons agenda in a bid to thwart Mr Johnson’s plans have been told they will be banned from standing as Conservative candidates in the next election.

Mr Hammond, asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday whether Downing Street had the power to prevent him from standing as a Tory at the next election, said: “I don’t believe they do and there would certainly be the fight of a lifetime if they tried to.”

Mr Hammond’s consituency organisation, Runnymede and Weybridge Conservatives, on Monday night announced his reselection as their candidate in the next election.

Asked whether he would be prepared to take a fight to prevent his deselection the courts, he said: “Possibly. A lot of my colleagues have come under immense pressure. Some have responded to that by saying ‘enough, I’m going’. That is not going to be my approach. This is my party. I have been a member of this party for 45 years.”

In what was seen as a swipe at Mr Johnson’s controversial right-hand man, Dominic Cummings, Mr Hammond said: “I am going to defend my party against incomers, entryists, who are trying to turn it from a broad church to narrow faction.

“People who are at the heart of this government, who are probably not even members of the Conservative party, who care nothing about the future of the Conservative party, I intend to defend my party against them.”

The former foreign secretary and chancellor said it was his understanding that Mr Cummings was “not and never has been” a party member. “I haven’t heard a denial from Downing Street, but perhaps we will hear one if that is not the case,” he added.

‘Rank hypocrisy’

Mr Hammond said “threats” issued against would-be rebel Tories had not worked and je labelled it “rank hypocrisy” for the government to have looked to deal with dissenters in the party with such a heavy hand.

“Many colleagues have been incensed by some of the actions over the past week or so, and I think there is a group of Conservatives who feel very strongly that now is the time to put the national interest ahead of any threats to us personally or to our careers,” he said.

“I think there will be enough people for us to get this over the line today.

“All kinds of threats are being made, most notably to withdraw the whip, but these are threats being made by a government, eight cabinet members of which have themselves defied the Conservative whip this year on the issue of Brexit.

“It would be rank hypocrisy to withdraw the whip.”

Mr Hammond also contradicted Mr Johnson’s repeated assertions that the British government is making progress in talks on a Brexit deal with the EU.

“There is no progress. There are no substantive negotiations going on. No progress is being made because the UK government has tabled no proposals. I suspect the reason is that the UK government itself has concluded, as leaks have suggested, that there are no alternative arrangements that would be implementable on October 31st that would meet the EU’s red lines and therefore anything the UK government does propose is likely to be rejected as unacceptable.”

Mr Hammond said he would “like to see the UK’s proposals published” on alternative arrangements and for MPs to “have sight” of them before it debates the anti no-deal legislation on Tuesday. – PA/Agencies