May ‘still a bloody dif­fi­cult woman’

The Australian - - WORLD - TIM SHIP­MAN LON­DON

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has vowed to make her­self “a bloody dif­fi­cult woman” in her Brexit show­down with Brus­sels — as min­is­ters called on her to sack Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond if she wants to save her own job.

Mrs May said that she has be­come “a lit­tle bit ir­ri­tated” by ques­tions about her lead­er­ship and turned on for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary Boris John­son, her most dan­ger­ous ri­val. About 50 Tory MPs met last Tues­day night to dis­cuss her pos­si­ble ouster.

In an in­ter­view with the BBC to be broad­cast this week, Mrs May de­nounced Mr John­son’s claim that her Che­quers Brexit pro­posal had “wrapped a sui­cide vest” around the con­sti­tu­tion.

“That choice of lan­guage is com­pletely inap­pro­pri­ate,” she said. “It’s not lan­guage I would have used.”

In a coded at­tack on Mr John­son, Mrs May said there was “a dif­fer­ence be­tween those who think you can only be bloody dif­fi­cult in pub­lic and those who think, ac­tu­ally, you bide your time and you’re bloody dif­fi­cult when the time is right — and when it re­ally mat­ters”.

Mrs May spoke out as she faced cab­i­net fury at de­mands by Mr Ham­mond that min­is­ters draw up plans for real terms pub­lic spend­ing cuts of 5 per cent, prompt­ing one to warn that the plans will lead to “catas­tro­phe” and put Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn into Down­ing Street.

One min­is­ter said: “If Theresa wants to save her­self, she had bet­ter throw Ham­mond over­board.”

The new row comes af­ter Mr Ham­mond used an emer­gency Brexit cab­i­net meet­ing last Thurs­day to call for Bri­tain’s de­par­ture from the EU to be de­layed past March — a sug­ges­tion shot down by Mrs May.

One cab­i­net min­is­ter said: “It’s un­be­liev­able that he could be so po­lit­i­cally naive.”

Six dif­fer­ent cab­i­net sources leaked de­tails of Mr Ham­mond’s “gaffe”. The Chan­cel­lor also sparked fury at an­other cab­i­net meet­ing on Tues­day when he made what fel­low min­is­ters called “ap­palling” and “cal­lous” com­ments de­nounc­ing peo­ple “squeal­ing” about ben­e­fits cuts.

Mr Ham­mond is de­mand­ing cuts in un­pro­tected de­part­ments to fund a cash boost to the Na­tional Health Ser­vice.

A se­nior min­is­ter said: “There’s a very big row brew­ing on tax and spend­ing and Ham­mond’s at­ti­tude. He is in a sulk be- cause he lost the NHS bat­tle and he is try­ing to make de­part­ments cut our bud­gets. We’re not go­ing to agree to that or we are f..ked.

“Trea­sury of­fi­cials have told of­fi­cials in other de­part­ments to make plans for 5 per cent real term cuts, year on year, in un­pro­tected bud­gets.

“He has got to be jok­ing. He’s got such a tin ear. The pub­lic’s ap­petite for aus­ter­ity is nil. Do we want to say to the pub­lic, ‘We are go­ing to re­spond to the needs in our com­mu­ni­ties’ or are we go­ing to be­come ide­o­log­i­cal? In my judg­ment, if we be­come ide­o­log­i­cal Cor­byn will win.”

Home Sec­re­tary Sa­jid Javid used the Thurs­day meet­ing to launch an open bid for Mr Ham­mond’s job, call­ing for “shock and awe” tax cuts for busi­ness to kick­start growth and a bon­fire of reg­u­la­tion.

Mr Ham­mond had strained the credulity of his col­leagues by de­mand­ing that Brexit be de­layed. The Chan­cel­lor be­lieves ar­ti­cle 50 to leave the EU should be ex­tended be­yond March 2019 to al­low time for the nec­es­sary leg­is­la­tion to pass.

Mrs May shot him down im­me­di­ately and the chief whip, Julian Smith, told Mr Ham­mond: “This is not the road to go down at all.” One cab­i­net min­is­ter said: “There was a col­lec­tive groan from ev­ery­one around the ta­ble. It’s un­be­liev­able that he could be so po­lit­i­cally naive.”

Yet on the sub­ject of de­lay­ing ar­ti­cle 50 Mr Ham­mond may not be alone. Sources in Brus­sels say Oliver Rob­bins, Mrs May’s chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor, had sounded out the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion about an ex­ten­sion to ar­ti­cle 50 ear­lier this year. “He asked them to float the idea and was told that Bri­tain would have to make the re­quest them­selves,” said a source who has dis­cussed the is­sue with the team of EU ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier.

Mr Rob­bins and Brexit Sec­re­tary Do­minic Raab are try­ing to per­suade the EU 27 to move to­wards Mrs May at Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing in Salzburg, giv­ing her a much-needed boost be­fore the Tory party con­fer­ence at the end of the month, where Mr John­son will speak at a rally against the Che­quers plan to quit the EU.



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