LONDON — Brexit Secretary Davis Davis today heads to Brussels to resume Brexit talks with European Union officials while back in Westminster Theresa May’s cabinet is embroiled in open warfare over the details of Britain’s exit.
Davis will spend four days around the table with EU negotiators to discuss the rights of EU citizens living in Britain and Brits living elsewhere in the 28-nation bloc. “Now it’s time to get down to work and make this a successful negotiation,” he told journalists on Monday morning.
However, Davis leaves behind a cabinet on the brink of open warfare over the crucial details of Britain’s departure from the EU — and the conflict centres around Chancellor Philip Hammond and the future of May’s premiership.
Hammond, one of the front bench’s most moderate voices on Brexit, has angered hard-line pro-Leavers both within the cabinet and wider parliamentary Conservative Party with his insistence that any transition deal between Britain officially dropping out of the EU and replacement systems coming into place must last for at least two years.
An unnamed cabinet minister told the Telegraph newspaper: “What’s really going on is that the Establishment, the Treasury, is trying to f*** it up. They want to frustrate Brexit.
“This is a critical moment. That’s why we have to keep Theresa [May] there. Otherwise, the whole thing will fall apart.”
Hammond’s colleague added that the Chancellor regards Brexiteers within the cabinet as “pirates” who have taken the Establishment prisoner” to force Britain into a hard and clean departure from the EU and all its institutions.
Hammond told Andrew Marr on Sunday that a Brexit transitional phase will last “a couple of years” but ministers including Trade Secretary Liam Fox have offered completely different timetables. Fox said last week that he’d be “very happy” with a transitional phase — also known as an “implementation phase” — lasting just “a few months”.
Hammond vs the rest
Prime Minister May was reportedly considering sacking Hammond if she had returned an increased majority at last month’s election. However, the actual result weakened her authority and probably spared the Chancellor the axe.
Since the result, Hammond has been increasingly outspoken and has found himself at odds with a number of his cabinet colleagues. Over the weekend he accused hard Leavers on the front bench of trying to derail his plan for a softer Brexit after it was reported he said that public sector workers are overpaid during a cabinet meeting.
“I think on many fronts it would be helpful if my colleagues, all of us, focused on the job in hand”, he told Marr.
“If you want my 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 we can have continued rising living standards in the future.”
Hammond did not deny making the comments, saying that Cabinets are supposed to be a “private space”.
Rivals lock antlers
Meanwhile, Davis is reportedly coming into increasing conflict with the foreign secretary Boris Johnson.
The two cabinet ministers were witnessed in a public confrontation at an event last Thursday.
“They were like a pair of rutting stags locking antlers,” one witness told the Sunday Times, with Davis apparently goading Johnson as “toxic” and a “failure”.
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