Tory Cabinet wars exploded into the open today as Philip Hammond accused Brexiteer Cabinet Ministers of leaking stories about him to the media.
It was reported this weekend that Hammond described public sector workers as “overpaid” and that driving a train is so easy “even a woman can do it” in a Cabinet meeting.
Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, the Chancellor denied the train comment, but when asked about the public sector pay remark he replied: “It’s easy to quote a phrase out of context.”
Hammond then went to to claim public sector workers are paid a “premium” compared to those in the private sector when pension contributions are taken into account.
He blamed the anonymous briefing on those in the Cabinet unhappy with his Brexit stance, which includes potentially years of transitional arrangements between the UK and EU after March 2019.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is one of those pushing for such a period to last months rather than years, but today he claimed he did not know who was behind the “deplorable” leaks.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith told Cabinet members engaged in such behavior to “just for once shut up for God’s sake” as there is “no mood” among backbench Tories for a leadership contest.
All the three men, and also First Secretary of State Damian Green, blamed the wrangling on too much “warm prosecco” and insisted Cabinet ministers needed a long holiday.
The day of Tory drama began with a report in the Sunday Times that Hammond had claimed public sector workers were “overpaid” during a recent Cabinet meeting.
The comments come against a backdrop of internal Conservative arguments over whether to axe the 1% public sector pay cap.
Duncan Smith, who was on the Marr show reviewing the papers, claimed the leaks were coming from people who wished to see Theresa May ousted as Prime Minister.
He said there was “great divide” in the Conservative Party on whether there should be a leadership contest, with many backbenchers and new MPs “seethingly furious” about the antics of those in the Cabinet.
Appearing later on the same show, Hammond refused to deny he had made the comment about public sector pay, but was angry that such a report had made it into the press.
Speaking about the leaks, Hammond said: “If you want my opinion, some of the noise is generated by the people who are not happy with the agenda that I have over the last few weeks tried to advance of ensuring that we achieve a Brexit that is focused on protecting our economy, protecting our jobs and making sure that we can have continued rising living standards in the future.”
Damian Green appeared on BBC Radio 5Live’s Pienaar’s Politics in an attempt to calm the down the rows between various factions.
DG: “Every July Westminster gets feverish and every July people say it’s different this year and you know what it’s the same every year. You know what everyone is desperate to get on their sun loungers and go on holiday and frankly the sooner they do the better. There is a job to be done, this Government has really serious thing to do. Not just Brexit, but acid attacks we need to take action on this, terrorism….I’m sorry to lower the enjoyment level at a festival but there is a lot of things going on in the world and now is absolutely not the time for this activity.”
JP: “Put the record straight for us then. Did the Chancellor say ‘public sector workers were overpaid?’”
DG: ”The Chancellor doesn’t believe that, I’m not going to report from inside Cabinet because Cabinet ministers should not do that. But the Chancellor does not think that public sector workers are overpaid the Government obviously respects the millions of people who do really important jobs. You know what public sector workers do….there all people we hugely respect. What is key is we have to strike the right balance between being fair in pay to public sector workers and fair to tax payers to ensure we still have a strong economy so we can employ and pay those public sector workers.”
Fox then appeared on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show, and The Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn - a pundit on the programme - teed up his appearance with this tweet:
Fox said his Cabinet colleagues needed to keep “very quiet” and stick to their own departments. He accused those leaking as having “too much self-indulgence.”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron claimed the government is tearing itself apart and said: “Theresa May has a choice: she either needs to back her Chancellor and sack the cabinet ministers briefing against him, or she needs to tell her Chancellor to stop making up serious allegations against his colleagues.
“Which is it?”