Philip Hammond has said he regrets his “poor choice” of words after branding the European Union the “enemy”.
The Chancellor, who has faced a wave of criticism from some Conservatives over his gloomy approach to Brexit, admitted that “passions are high” in the party but insisted he was fully signed up to the plans for Britain’s exit and turned his fire on Brussels.
Around 30 minutes later, however, Mr Hammond rowed back from the comments and talked instead of Britain’s “friends and partners” in the EU.
He tweeted: “In an interview today I was making the point that we are united at home. I regret I used a poor choice of words.
“We will work with our friends and partners in the EU on a mutually beneficial Brexit deal #noenemieshere.”
Mr Hammond made the controversial comments during a visit to Washington, where he is attending the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund.
He told Sky News: “I understand that passions are high, I understand that people have very strong views about this but we are all going to the same place.
“We all have the same agenda, we all signed up to the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech, we’re all signed up to the Article 50 letter, we’re all behind the speech that she made in Florence.
“The enemy, the opponents, are out there on the other side of the table. Those are the people that we have to negotiate with to get the very best deal for Britain.”
Labour said the remarks were “foolish” and accused the Chancellor of “acting like Basil Fawlty on holiday”.
Peter Dowd, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “These are foolish remarks by Philip Hammond, and reveal that he is clearly feeling the pressure from Tory MPs calling for him to be sacked. The tone of this rhetoric will obviously not unblock negotiations or help protect our economic interests.
“The Chancellor should be putting the country before the infighting in his own party when he is representing us overseas, and refrain from acting like Basil Fawlty on holiday. It is vital that these negotiations do not lead to a situation where Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal, risking jobs and living standards.”
Mr Hammond has come under fire from pro-Brexit Tories furious at what they see as his reluctance to prepare for the prospect Britain could leave the EU without a deal if talks in Brussels collapse.
Former chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby has led the calls for Prime Minister Theresa May to sack him, describing his actions as “very close to sabotage”.
Former Chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby (left) believes Mr Hammond should be sacked (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Earlier, Downing Street dismissed reports of a deepening rift between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, saying she still had full confidence in him.
The Sun quoted one Cabinet source as saying that relations between the two had become so difficult, that they “can’t bear to be alone together in a room”.
However a No 10 spokeswoman said: “They have a very good working relationship and they work very closely together.”
Mr Hammond was spotted dining out on lobster with predecessor George Osborne at Caraffini in Chelsea earlier this week, according to the Daily Mail.
The editor of the London Evening Standard, who was sacked by Theresa May and has since reportedly said he will not rest until she is “chopped up in bags” in his freezer, was at the heart of the Remain campaign.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries told the newspaper: “You can tell a lot about people by the friends they keep. We know George Osborne wants to wreck Brexit – why would the Chancellor want to meet him unless he sees Brexit as the enemy?”