Air­ing dirty laun­dry in public is ‘de­lib­er­ate poke in the eye for PM’

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Gor­don Rayner PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

At the best of times, those clos­est to Theresa May and Philip Ham­mond de­scribe their re­la­tion­ship as “busi­nesslike”. But this week has been among the worst of times, and be­hind the fa­cade of Down­ing Street, re­la­tions be­tween Nos 10 and 11 have be­come in­creas­ingly dys­func­tional.

Even the most on-mes­sage in­sid­ers use words like “tetchy” and “frac­tious” to de­scribe the Prime Min­is­ter and the Chan­cel­lor’s re­la­tion­ship. Some use rather more An­glo-saxon terms.

Yes­ter­day the Prime Min­is­ter’s spokesman had to con­firm – not for the first time – that the Chan­cel­lor re­tained Mrs May’s “full con­fi­dence”, after Lord Law­son sug­gested Mr Ham­mond should be sacked.

In the space of a week, Mrs May has come un­der pres­sure to sack both her For­eign Sec­re­tary and her Chan­cel­lor. No won­der civil ser­vants are busily pre­par­ing for a reshuf­fle they are in­creas­ingly con­vinced is com­ing.

The lat­est down­turn in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Prime Min­is­ter and the Chan­cel­lor – the most im­por­tant in any gov­ern­ment – has its roots in a Cab­i­net row on Tues­day, when Brex­i­teers and Re­main­ers squared up over plans for a no-deal out­come to Brexit talks.

Michael Gove, the En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary who helped run the Leave cam­paign, wanted to dis­cuss ideas on what the UK’S fish­ing pol­icy would be in the event of no deal, then sug­gested that the Cab­i­net should re­ceive weekly up­dates on how much money each depart­ment was spend­ing on their prepa­ra­tions for no deal. Mr Ham­mond dis­agreed.

The Cab­i­net im­me­di­ately split into two fac­tions, and rather than bring­ing the Europhiles and Euroscep­tics to heel, Mrs May sim­ply moved the meet­ing on to an­other sub­ject.

Mr Ham­mond re­sponded by writ­ing an ar­ti­cle for The Times in which he said that he would only spend money on no-deal prepa­ra­tions “when it is re­spon­si­ble to do so”.

One gov­ern­ment source de­scribed it as “a de­lib­er­ate poke in the eye for Euroscep­tics and ar­guably the Prime Min­is­ter her­self.

“He was car­ry­ing on the Cab­i­net row on the front pages of the next day’s news­pa­pers, so it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that peo­ple are an­noyed with him.

“In some ways it’s worse than what Boris John­son did when he set out his Brexit vi­sion in The Daily Tele­graph be­cause Boris was try­ing to head off a soft Brexit but the Chan­cel­lor was tak­ing a pri­vate Cab­i­net row into the public do­main. You just don’t do that.”

Mrs May had ramped up the prospect of no deal in a Com­mons state­ment on Mon­day to put pres­sure on Brus­sels ne­go­tia­tors, but by play­ing down the idea of spend­ing money on prepa­ra­tions for no deal, Mr Ham­mond un­der­mined her mes­sage.

An­other source said: “It def­i­nitely cheesed off No10 and not just be­cause it went against what Theresa May had said, but be­cause it is what Ham­mond seems to have spent the past year do­ing – try­ing to soften Brexit.”

A source close to Mr Ham­mond said: “These re­ports have been mas­sively ex­ag­ger­ated; peo­ple are get­ting very ex­cited about head­lines but in re­al­ity the thrust of what Philip Ham­mond and Theresa May are say­ing about Brexit is the same.

“It would be a waste of tax­pay­ers’ money to spend mil­lions of pounds on some­thing that isn’t go­ing to hap­pen – like no deal – that’s just the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion.”

‘It def­i­nitely cheesed off No10 and not just be­cause it went against what Theresa May had said’

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