Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond have clashed bitterly at a meeting in which the prime minister made a last-ditch attempt to win over Tory rebels ahead of a mammoth Commons Brexit showdown.
Johnson hosted 15 of the so-called “rebel alliance” at Downing Street in an effort to win them over ahead of a crunch vote tonight which could give control of the Commons to MPs who want to stop a no-deal Brexit.
The PM warned Hammond that any vote to seize control of the parliamentary timetable would hand power to a ‘junta’ that included Jeremy Corbyn.
But Hammond hit back, saying that parliament would be in control, not Corbyn, and left the meeting ‘unconvinced’ by the premier’s arguments.
Johnson has threatened Tories with an election and being effectively sacked from the party if they defy him.
In response, rebels have demanded the PM sets out clearly his plan to get a new Brexit deal, and a source close to the alliance described Johnson’s arguments in the meeting as “unconvincing”.
As a fierce briefing war erupted, a rebel source said Johnson “did not provide a reasonable answer” on why the government has failed to propose any alternatives to the Irish backstop.
And they were unconvinced by officials’ insistence that it was possible to pass a Brexit deal in the short time between the European Council summit of October 17-18 when a new agreement could be struck, and the October 31 Brexit deadline, with Hammond suggesting the legislation could take eight weeks.
Efforts by Johnson’s Brexit sherpa David Frost to convince rebels that new negotiations were not a “sham”, as reported by the Daily Telegraph, also failed, the source said.
There were hostile clashes between Johnson and Hammond, during which the PM rejected the ex-chancellor’s insistence that parliament was being empowered by the rebel plan.
“You are handing power over to a junta that includes Jeremy Corbyn,” Johnson told him at one stage.
A government source also accused Hammond of “talking over people” and coming across as obstructive.
But they said he was among only two or three “irreconcilables” in the meeting and that others among the 15-strong group were open to persuasion either on the Commons takeover or the anti-no deal legislation that will follow.
Hammond was also accused of admitting that the anti-no deal bill was drafted with the help of the EU’s legal services department, although a spokesman for the ex-chancellor described this as “ridiculous and categorically untrue”.
The government source said: “He explicitly mentioned EU legal services and their advice on this bill. The very clear implication from his comments was that his involvement in drafting the bill had been done in conjunction with the (European) Commission,” the government source said.
“He then corrected himself very quickly and said ‘this is the advice I’ve had from my lawyers’.”
It is understood that Hammond was referring to conversations he had with EU officials while he was chancellor and recent remarks by former legal service chief Jean-Claude Piris.
A spokesman for Hammond responded: “This is ridiculous and categorically untrue.
“Philip made a point during the meeting this afternoon that it is the established view of the EU legal service that extension conditions cannot be applied by Brussels.
“That is a statement of fact - and something that was made clear during the last administration.”