By Greg Heffer:
(photo credit: sky)
The Chancellor believes Conservative disunity over Brexit will weaken Britain’s hand in negotiations with Brussels.
Philip Hammond has warned Boris Johnson that he risks weakening Britain’s hand in Brexit negotiations by consistently exposing Cabinet divisions.
The Chancellor, who insisted “no minister is unsackable”, urged the Foreign Secretary to demonstrate “unity” as talks with Brussels intensify.
This week’s Conservative Party conference in Manchester has already been dominated by splits at the top of Government, after Mr Johnson used a second newspaper article in two weeks to set out his “red lines” for Brexit.
His latest intervention has led to a growing backlash among some Tory MPs, while Mr Hammond highlighted the impact of Cabinet-level splits on the Brexit process.
Asked whether Mr Johnson should “just shut up”, the Chancellor told Sky News’ Sunrise: “The more we can show unity, the stronger our negotiating position with the EU would be.”
Mr Hammond insisted it was a “question for the Prime Minister” as to whether Mr Johnson is “unsackable” from his role as Foreign Secretary, but added: “I’ve always operated on what I think is the prudent assumption from a personal point of view that no minister is unsackable.”
Mr Hammond is set to be centre stage at the conference on Monday, announcing a £400m boost for the Northern Powerhouse.
The Chancellor admitted there are “differences of view” on Brexit in Cabinet, but suggested Mr Johnson’s views on leaving the EU were no surprise as “what Boris has been saying is stuff Boris has been saying for the last 18 months”.
“He hasn’t said anything people didn’t know he was thinking about,” Mr Hammond added.
The latest Tory row to be sparked by Mr Johnson came after the Foreign Secretary told The Sun the planned Brexit transition period must last “not a second more” than two years.
But Mr Hammond reminded Mr Johnson the Government’s “very clear” position was a Brexit transition could last longer – something the Foreign Secretary had agreed upon before the Prime Minister’s major speech on Brexit in Florence, the Chancellor added.
“The position is very clear, I was sitting there in the front row in Florence and I heard the Prime Minister very clearly say ‘a time-limited interim period of around two years,'” Mr Hammond said.
“That was agreed by the Cabinet ahead of the speech and that is the position we’re negotiating.”
Mr Hammond, who was reportedly facing the sack if Theresa May hadn’t been left weakened by her snap General Election, gave his backing to the Prime Minister to continue in 10 Downing Street by declaring he is “100%” behind her.
“She’s the right person to lead us through what is a complicated process,” he said.