- Chancellor Philip Hammond and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson clash over direction of Brexit
- Hammond supporters tell the Telegraph Johnson is “simple minded”
- Cabinet still fighting over direction of Brexit despite Prime Minister’s attempt to unify ministers in speech last week
LONDON — Two of Britain’s most senior cabinet members are involved in a war of words over Brexit.
Chancellor Philip Hammond and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have clashed in the press over the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Hammond favours a “soft” Brexit, with the UK maintaining close regulatory and trade ties for many years to come. Johnson, meanwhile, wants “hard” Brexit, whereby Britain will quickly cut-off links to the EU.
Both camps are fighting a battle in the pages of national newspapers in a bid to win the media battle that could decide the direction of Brexit.
Supporters of Philip Hammond on Monday told the Telegraph that Boris Johnson’s approach to Brexit “simple-minded,” the latest salvo in the war of words.
The comment was provoked by Johnson’s demand over the weekend that any Brexit transition period should be no more than two-years long, with no new EU rules or regulations implemented in that time. Hammond’s allies say a Brexit transition period might need to last past the next general election.
The chancellor’s allies were angered by Johnson’s supporters after they suggested they had stopped Hammond’s push for a longer transition period, the Telegraph newspaper reported.
An ally of Hammond told the Telegraph: “The bottom line is that this is not going to be easy, something that’s over-looked by simple-minded Brexiteers like Boris. When it comes down to practicalities it may well take longer.”
May tries to unite her cabinet
Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday delivered a key Brexit speech in Florence in an attempt to unite the cabinet over the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
May set out a “generous offer” of a “time-limited” transition period of around two years on the “current terms” of the UK’s membership. It was seen as a compromise between those who want a quick Brexit, such as Johnson, and those who want a longer withdrawal, such as Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
May’s intervention also guaranteed that free movement will continue between the UK and EU after Brexit, and it would continue paying into the bloc.
However, the speech has done little to quell disagreement. One of Johnson’s supporters made it clear that the foreign secretary did not want a close relationship with the EU during the transition, telling the Telegraph: “There should not be any new regulations during that period. We should uphold those we have already but not take anymore.”
The Hammond ally told the Telegraph: “Philip isn’t being ideological about it, he pragmatic. What he wants is for it to work in the interests of the economy and the country, that is what is driving him. Boris is talking tough for the sake of it.”
They also pointed out that the prime minister said the transition period should last for “about” two years, which allows the possibility of a slightly longer time frame for the UK’s withdrawal.
From allies to enemies
The latest clash between Hammond and Johnson follows the revelation in the Sunday Times newspaper that the chancellor pledged to back the foreign secretary in any leadership bid in the aftermath of the general election earlier this year.
It was reported that Johnson said: “Philip’s just texted me. He’s 100% behind me if I go for it,” and that the plan was to head up the government with Brexit Secretary David Davis as the third member of a triumvirate.
Davis begins the fourth round of Brexit negotiations on Monday. He will join the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who said after the third round of talks that there had not been “decisive progress on any of the principal subjects.”
The Brexit secretary denied that the prime minister’s speech was changed following Johnson’s 4,000-word article where he laid out his vision for a “glorious” Brexit.
Davis said: “The policy in the Prime Minister’s speech had been coming for a long time. Some of them – transition – we were designing right back in the beginning of the year.
“Some of it we’d been designing months ago. I don’t think there’s been any change of policy in the last few weeks.”
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