No-deal leak blamed on Hammond’s Remainers
Johnson accuses former ministers of undermining crucial talks with EU leaders
BORIS JOHNSON last night accused a group of Remain-supporting ex-ministers led by Philip Hammond of attempting to undermine his bid to negotiate a new Brexit deal from the EU.
The Prime Minister’s team accused the group of “deliberately leaking” details of Government no deal planning ahead of crucial talks this week with Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel.
The war of words escalated last night as Mr Hammond denied he or his allies had leaked the “Operation Yellowhammer” document and accused Mr Johnson of having “no negotiating strategy and no serious plan for a no-deal”.
The leak of Yellowhammer – Whitehall code for preparations for no deal – to The Sunday Times laid bare civil servants’ concerns about the impact of a no-deal without adequate planning.
However, Mr Johnson’s team said the plans – warning of medicine and food shortages and the risk of riots – were drawn up by Theresa May’s government and the leak was purposefully timed to frustrate Mr Johnson’s efforts to secure a new deal to exit on Oct 31.
No10 sources blamed one of a group of ministers led by Mr Hammond, the former chancellor, and David Gauke, the former justice secretary. A source said: “It has been deliberately leaked by a former minister in an attempt to influence discussions with EU leaders.
“Those obstructing preparation are no longer in Government, £2billion of extra funding has already been made available and Whitehall has been stood up to actually do the work through the daily ministerial meetings.”
A spokesman for Mr Hammond denied any involvement, saying: “It was absolutely not him.” Mr Gauke could not be reached for comment.
The Yellowhammer document said that fresh food prices would rise, medicines would run short and there would be a rise in public disorder. Petrol import tariffs would “inadvertently” lead to the closure of two oil refineries, while protests across the UK could “require significant amounts of police resources” in a no-deal scenario.
The leak of the document – marked “official sensitive” – is the most serious since details of talks at Chinese firm Huawei were leaked in April.
Whitehall insiders said documents with this classification were not meant to be removed from departments. Last night the Cabinet Office declined to say whether there would be a leak inquiry.
An insider close to Mr Hammond’s group took aim at Mr Johnson’s handling of the Brexit talks and at Dominic Cummings, his chief adviser, telling The Daily Telegraph: “There is no negotiating strategy – and no serious plan for a no-deal. This is all about unelected ideologues at No 10 [who are] hell-bent on an undemocratic no-deal.”
Mr Johnson heads to Brussels this week for his first direct talks with Mrs Merkel, the German chancellor, and Mr Macron, the French president, since becoming Prime Minister.
Government sources said he would make clear that threats by Remain-supporting MPS would come to nothing.
Mr Johnson’s strategy is to threaten meaningfully a no-deal Brexit to persuade the EU to remove the Irish backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement.
However, aides to Mr Macron said he would say the backstop cannot be revisited even if it means a no-deal Brexit.
Ms Merkel added: “I think it’s always better to leave with an agreement than without one. But if that’s not possible, we’ll be prepared for the alternative.”
No10 expects there will be “very little discussion” of Brexit during the visits. Instead, discussions will revolve around next weekend’s G7 agenda.
Mr Johnson will spread the message of the UK’S “renewed global reach” at the summit in Biarritz, France.
AS MANY as 40 Tory MPS are now backing a bid led by ex-cabinet ministers Philip Hammond and David Gauke to stop Britain leaving the European Union without a deal on Oct 31.
Sources in the group – dubbed the “Gauke-ward Squad” – say the numbers of MPS who now support the rebellion has jumped from 21 to nearly 40 after details of the group emerged last week.
The size of the potential rebellion will increase pressure on Boris Johnson to avoid putting the question of the UK leaving the EU to a vote of MPS before the UK is scheduled to leave on Oct 31.
Mr Johnson and his team are adamant that the best way of securing a new deal with Brussels is to make clear that the UK is ready and willing to leave without a deal.
Last week 21 Tory MPS, including former Cabinet ministers Mr Hammond, Mr Gauke, David Lidington, Greg Clark and Rory Stewart, broke cover to make clear they are fighting a no-deal exit.
In a letter to Mr Johnson, they said they were “alarmed” by his negotiating red lines, “which on the face of it, appear to eliminate the chance of reaching agreement with the EU”.
Sources close to the group said that the number of Conservative MPS backing their position was now significantly higher, with many of the additional supporters reluctant to be named in public.
There are at least 10 more Tory MPS who will back the group, and potentially a further seven, the source said. “As things go on we will get a better idea of numbers,” they added.
The source said: “It should not come as any surprise that Number 10 is trying to pick people off that group on the basis that the strategy is not to go to no deal. There are lots of back-channel conversations.”
No meetings are planned this week, with key players such as Mr Hammond and Mr Stewart, away from London.
However, the group of Tory MPS is understood to be talking regularly on the phone and on social media. One source said it will spend the next fortnight on “discussions about strategy”. Another source claimed that meetings had been arranged in hotels away from Westminster to plot how to stop no deal when MPS return on Sept 3.
A source close to the group said: “There are discussions about strategy and how to use the minimum possible legislative process to make sure that Parliament does have a say on this. This is not about bringing down a Conservative government.”
A key focus for the Remainer Tory MPS is how to use legislation ostensibly linked to governing Northern Ireland as a way to pass legislation to stop the UK leaving the EU on Oct 31.
“That provides a useful hook in the first week and more likely on Sept 9. That would be a sensible direction of travel that also avoids having to talk about confidence votes.”
Mr Johnson made clear his frustration with the Remainer Tories in reply to the letter from the “Gauke-ward squad” which was leaked to the Mail on Sunday yesterday.
Mr Johnson said: “The EU can see the public debate among Parliamentarians and they have been told privately by some British politicians that Parliament will frustrate our exit on 31 October.
“Some of you have said publicly that you are determined to try to stop us leaving the EU on that date if we cannot secure a deal.
“It is as plain as a pikestaff that Brussels or the EU 27 will simply not compromise as long as they believe there is the faintest possibility that Parliament can block Brexit on 31 October”.