EEYORE’S LAST HARRUMPH
Yes, he nursed a healthy economy. But ultra-Remainer Philip Hammond, who’s finally quit as an MP, infuriated his party for his mulish opposition to No Deal – and couldn’t resist a final barb
FORMER chancellor Philip Hammond is quitting Parliament after deciding he could not face standing as an independent against the Tories in next month’s General Election.
In a letter to constituents, he said he had decided he could not fight the party he supported ‘all my adult life’, writes Jack Doyle.
Mr Hammond, who said he was standing down with ‘great sadness’, was one of 21 Tories who lost the whip after voting to force a delay to Brexit. Having become a serial rebel and virulent critic of No 10, he was not one of the ten MPs readmitted to the party last week.
The former foreign and defence secretary had promised the PM the ‘fight of a lifetime’ over whether he could stand as Tory candidate in Runnymede and Weybridge, the seat he has represented since 1997. He threatened legal action and suggested he would stand as an Independent Conservative.
But yesterday he changed his mind, saying: ‘If I fight as an Independent Conservative candidate against an official Conservative Party candidate, I would cease to be a member of the party. I am saddened to find myself in this position after 45 years of membership, 22 years as a Conservative MP, 12 years as an opposition frontbench spokesman and over nine years as a Cabinet minister.’
And in a clear swipe at Boris Johnson, he said the party had ‘always had room for a wide range of opinions and has been tolerant of measured dissent’.
Last night Chancellor Sajid Javid wished Mr Hammond ‘all the best’. He wrote on Twitter: ‘Whilst we have our differences on Brexit, I’ve always had great respect for him.’
Tony Blair hailed his ‘integrity and courage’ while former justice secretary David Gauke, another of the 21 rebels, said: ‘Philip brought intelligence, industry and integrity to all that he did as a minister and MP.’
But one Tory Brexiteer told the Mail: ‘History will not be kind to him. When the country needed someone in the position of Chancellor to step up to the plate and make sure Brexit was delivered, he was found wanting.’
For a politician often likened to Winnie-the-Pooh’s gloomy friend Eeyore, it seemed apposite that Philip Hammond should announce ‘with great sadness’ his decision to quit frontline politics.
rarely during his time as Chancellor did the one-time second-hand car salesman from Essex glow with sunny optimism.
That said, he was responsible for presiding over some radiant times for the UK economy — his careful stewardship accruing £26 billion to spend on vital public services, to invest in the social care system, on schools, mental health, roads, defence and tax cuts.
Steady, if not spectacular, was Hammond’s watchword — as was economic growth while he was in charge of the nation’s finances.
But by nature more of an accountant than a politician, the 63-year-old will also be remembered for his role in blocking Brexit.
Many bitterly accuse him of disloyalty for voting against the Government line in order to prevent a No Deal Brexit — the very outcome he repeatedly refused to prepare for and fund while in Theresa May’s Cabinet.
By standing down now, instead of going through with his vow to engage in a ‘fight of a lifetime’ against ‘Brexiteer entryists’ who he said were attempting to turn the Tory Party into a ‘narrow faction’, he merits praise.
By not running as an Independent in the Surrey seat of runnymede and Weybridge, he leaves the Conservatives with an easy 18,000 majority to defend.
And to Boris Johnson, his departure means one less troublesome remainer former minister to be offered a seemingly permanent slot by the BBC to give a negative running commentary on the PM’s Brexit strategy.
Hammond follows another former Chancellor and arch-remainer, Ken Clarke, through the exit door and there will be many Tories who voted to stay in the EU who will despair that their party has no place for such big beasts.
Yet Hammond has been out of sorts with the
Tory leadership ever since the 2016 referendum, which he vociferously opposed.
It is no secret that he and Mrs May did not get on. Anthony Seldon’s new biography of the former PM suggests Hammond had been resentful of her ever since 1995 when losing the Maidenhead Tory nomination to her. Certainly, he was a very detached figure in her government.
Mrs May hated his attempts to explain economic realities to her. ‘Theresa, that’s not how it works,’ he is said to have told her.
Most famously, he bungled the 2017 Budget, and was forced into a humiliating U-turn over a planned rise in taxes on the selfemployed. Backtracking threatened a £2billion hole in the public finances over the following five years.
To Cabinet Brexiteers such as David Davis and Michael Gove, he was a constant and immovable object — the ultimate ‘Establishment Remoaner’ and witheringly dismissive of any opportunities of Brexit. Despite voting against the Government a few months ago, he is said to have been astonished to have the Whip withdrawn.
Hammond is a man who hates being out in the cold.
Even when ten of his fellow 21 rebels were offered an olive branch by No10, Hammond said he was ‘agonising’ over whether he wanted Boris Johnson to win the General Election.
This was another misjudged act of self-harm and he had reached a point of no return. Without doubt, he realised this earlier, in August, when he demanded an apology from Downing Street after the leak of the so-called Operation Yellowhammer dossier warning about the perils of a No Deal Brexit. Government ‘sources’ said it had been deliberately leaked by a former (anti-Brexit) minister.
An outraged Hammond wrote to Mr Johnson, saying the ‘clear implication’ was that a minister in Mrs May’s government had leaked the document and he was speaking ‘on behalf of all former ministers to ask you to withdraw these allegations which question our integrity’. Indeed, perhaps, one of Hammond’s biggest weaknesses is his thin skin.
Ultimately, though, his political obituary will include much praise for continuing previous Chancellor George Osborne’s long battle to reduce the huge budget deficit inherited from the Labour government of Gordon Brown.
In the summer, shortly before he left office, the deficit fell to a 17-year low as a result of increased tax revenues and the squeeze on public spending. ‘The key thing for me is that we are, probably for the first time in a decade, in a position where we have choices,’ said a proud Chancellor Hammond.
As he walks away from politics, he, too, now has choices.
And also, the quiet satisfaction of knowing that Boris Johnson has a £26 billion election spending war chest only because of his own steady stewardship of Britain plc.
Devoted couple: With Susan, his wife of 28 years
Last Budget: With the famous red box in 2018
On the way up: Philip Hammond, then 37, appearing on Newsnight in 1993. Inset, arriving at the Commons last week