CONFLICTS at the heart of government erupted into the open yesterday as chancellor Philip Hammond hit back at Cabinet colleagues for attempting to undermine him.
Mr Hammond condemned fellow ministers he claimed were critics of his Brexit strategy after he reportedly dismissed public sector workers as ‘overpaid’ in a Cabinet meeting last Tuesday.
The Sunday Times suggested as many as five ministers endorsed their story.
Answering his critics, the chancellor urged his colleagues to focus ‘on the job in hand’. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘Some of the noise is generated by people who are not happy with the agenda which I, over the last few weeks, have tried to advance.’
He refused to be drawn on the meeting but said ‘very generous pensions’ put public sector workers ten per cent ahead of private workers. Mr Hammond, who campaigned for Remain with Theresa May, said he wanted a Brexit focused on protecting jobs, the economy and ‘rising living standards in the future’.
He added there was now an acceptance among senior ministers there would have to be a transition period of about two years after the UK leaves the EU in 2019 to avoid a ‘hard landing’ for business.
In the meeting, Cabinet sources reportedly accused him of being ‘inflammatory’ and said his remarks were challenged by both prime minister Mrs May and foreign secretary Boris Johnson. International trade secretary Dr Liam Fox yesterday accused those of leaking as having ‘too much self-indulgence’. First secretary Damian Green said: ‘Now is absolutely not the time for this type of activity.’
Mr Johnson and Brexit secretary David Davis, who both campaigned for Leave, have been tipped among Mr Hammond’s main potential rivals in a mooted Tory leadership contest.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the government was ‘more interested in tearing itself apart than getting on with the monumental challenge it has set itself on Brexit’.
Unison’s Christina McAnea called the chancellor’s remarks on public pay ‘nothing short of offensive’.
Meanwhile, Mr Davis returns to Brussels today for the second round of talks with the European Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.