May ‘still a bloody difficult woman’
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.