Hammond: Cabinet Rivals Trying To Undermine Brexit Agenda

Hammond: Cabinet Rivals Trying To Undermine Brexit Agenda

Chancellor Philip Hammond has lashed out at Cabinet rivals who briefed against him, accusing them of trying to undermine his attempts to secure a Brexit deal which protected jobs and the economy.

Mr Hammond has been hit by a series of press reports claiming the he told the Cabinet that public sector workers were "overpaid" and that driving a train was now so easy that "even" a woman could do it.

Appearing on BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show, he blamed colleagues opposed to the agenda he had been setting out for extended transitional arrangements when Britain leaves the EU in 2019 so business was not faced with a "cliff edge" break.

"If you want may opinion, 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 of ensuring that we achieve a Brexit which is focused on protecting our economy, protecting our jobs, and making sure that we have continued rising living standards in the future," he said.

Mr Hammond said he did not know who had been briefing against him although the Chancellor is widely believed to be at odds with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

"They shouldn't have done it frankly because Cabinet meetings are supposed to be a private space in which we have a serious discussion," he said.

"I think on many fronts it would be helpful if my colleagues – all of us – focused on the job in hand. This Government is facing a ticking clock over the Brexit negotiations."

Asked if there was now a fight under way within the Cabinet to succeed Theresa May as Conservative leader, he said: "I certainly hope not. If there is I am no part of it."

Mr Hammond refused to be drawn on a report by the Sunday Times that he said public sector workers were "overpaid" at the weekly meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday - although a Treasury source insisted that he did not use the word.

He acknowledged, however, he had made the point during the discussion that public sector workers enjoyed a 10% pension "premium" over their private sector counterparts.

"Public sector pay raced ahead of private sector pay after the crash in 2008-09. Taking public sector pay before pensions contributions – that gap has now closed," he said.

"But when you take into account the very generous contributions public sector employers have to pay in for their workers' pensions - their very generous pensions - they are still about 10% ahead."

His comments came at a sensitive time for the Government which is under pressure to end the 1% pay cap for public sector workers after seven years of austerity.

The Chancellor, who is widely thought to have led the opposition in Government to any relaxation, did hint that it was an issue they were prepared to look at.

"We do keep this under constant review and I think the fact that is apparently now well known the Cabinet has been discussing this issue sends a clear signal that we do understand the concern both of public sector workers and of the wider public," he said.

Despite the briefings, Mr Hammond said there was now an acceptance among senior ministers that there would have to be a period of transition when the UK leaves the EU.

"I believe the great majority of my colleagues now recognise that is the right and sensible way to go," he said.

"We have got to do this in a way that meets the concerns and requirements of both people who want a softer version of Brexit and those who campaigned hard to leave the European Union.

I think most people are willing to accept a transition so long as it is of a limited duration in order to avoid a hard landing."

He said the duration was a "technical question" that would be determined by the time needed to get the new post-Brexit arrangements in place.

"It depends how long we need to put in place new customs systems, new migration systems. These things can't be magicked up overnight," he said.

"We are not going to be talking a couple of months. I think we are going to be talking a couple of years."

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told his Cabinet colleagues to keep "very quiet" rather than leak details of meetings.

Mr Fox, asked if he was part of the group briefing against Mr Hammond, told BBC 1's Sunday Politics: "I absolutely deplore leaks from the Cabinet.

"I think my colleagues should be very quiet, stick to their own departmental duties and I think the public expects us to be disciplined and effective.

"Our backbenchers are furious and the only people smiling at this will be in Berlin and Paris."

Pressed on why people were leaking details, Mr Fox said: "I think there's too much self-indulgence and I think people need to have less Prosecco and have a longer summer holiday."

Mr Fox defended his working relationship with Mr Hammond, claiming their views are "very similar" on things linked to Brexit.

He said: "I don't know where the briefing is coming from but I know it should stop because our colleagues on the backbenches do not like it.

"I'm afraid it is happening and I think it undermines the position of the Government in this massive negotiation we've got.

"We don't need an interim leader, we don't need an alternative leader. We have a very good, competent leader in Theresa May."

Mr Fox was later questioned about differences of opinion with the Chancellor over whether no Brexit deal is better than a bad deal.

Told the Government is approaching Brexit with six different voices, Mr Fox said: "(Brexit Secretary) David Davis speaks for the Government, not the Sunday newspapers."

First Secretary Damian Green - effectively Mrs May's deputy - said the briefings needed to stop.

"There are a lot of very serious things going on the world and now is absolutely not the time for this type of activity," he told BBC Radio 5 Live's Pienaar's Politics.

"Talk of leadership challenges is completely overblown and completely the wrong thing for the country. The last thing anyone wants is for the Conservative Party to turn in on itself."


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