Hammond accuses cabinet Brexiters of moves to undermine him

British chancellor reacts following newspaper leaks including plot to oust Theresa May

British chancellor Philip Hammond on the BBC’s ‘Andrew Marr Show’ on Sunday.  Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC via Reuters

British chancellor Philip Hammond on the BBC’s ‘Andrew Marr Show’ on Sunday. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC via Reuters

 

Philip Hammond, Britain’s chancellor, has accused hardliners in the cabinet of maliciously briefing against him to undermine his push for a business-friendly exit from the EU.

Mr Hammond spoke out after the tensions in the Conservative party were laid bare in the Sunday newspapers, with damaging leaks about what was discussed at two cabinet meetings earlier in the week and further accounts of plots to remove Theresa May as prime minister.

According to the Sunday Times Mr Hammond told the cabinet that public sector workers were “overpaid”, a comment that will infuriate those whose pay rises are capped at 1 per cent a year for the next five years.

The Sun, meanwhile, reported that the chancellor had said that “even a woman” could drive a train nowadays.

The chancellor denied making the latter comment – he said he was making the point it was outrageous there were not more female train drivers – but did not deny making the comments about pay. He said they had been taken “out of context”.

Mr Hammond told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme he had said that public sector workers enjoyed a “10 per cent premium” over those in the private sector thanks to generous pensions and that fiscal discipline remained essential.

“Cabinet meetings are supposed to be a private space when we are supposed to have serious discussions,” Mr Hammond said. Those who had briefed the exchanges “shouldn’t have done”.

Discipline breakdown

The Sunday Times claimed to have five separate sources for its story, suggesting a breakdown in cabinet discipline and a danger that the normal functioning of government is in danger.

Although he did not mention any colleagues by name, Brexiters in the cabinet include David Davis, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom and Priti Patel.

“Some of the noise is generated by people who are not happy with the agenda I’ve tried to advance over the past few weeks,” Mr Hammond said. He wanted to ensure a “Brexit focused on protecting our economy, jobs and rising prosperity in future”.

That could include a transition period lasting a “couple of years” after Brexit, said Mr Hammond, who acknowledged that Britain was ready to pay any outstanding bills when it leaves.

Mr Davis and Mr Johnson, both seen as potential leadership contenders, were among those in attendance at a Spectator magazine party last week at which Ms May’s longevity at prime minister was widely discussed by guests.

Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory leader, said he was dismayed at the leadership speculation in the Sunday papers, telling some of his colleagues: “Just for once, shut up for God’s sake.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017