Big guns warn John­son no­body un­sack­able’

Pol­i­tics: Boris’s lead­er­ship hopes and Brexit comments irk top Tories

The Press and Journal (Inverness) - - NEWS - BY AN­DREW WOOD­COCK

Cab­i­net heavy­weights have de­liv­ered a slap­down to Boris John­son af­ter spec­u­la­tion over his lead­er­ship am­bi­tions dom­i­nated the Con­ser­va­tive an­nual con­fer­ence in Manch­ester.

Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond warned that signs of dis­unity in Govern­ment were harm­ing the UK’s Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, and sent a thinly-veiled cau­tion to the For­eign Sec­re­tary that Cab­i­net min­is­ters owe their loy­alty to Theresa May and “no­body is un­sack­able”.

And First Sec­re­tary of State Damian Green - Mrs May’s ef­fec­tive deputy - flatly dis­missed Mr John­son’s de­mand that the Brexit tran­si­tion pe­riod should last “not a sec­ond more” than two years, telling ac­tivists in Manch­ester that the fi­nal date of with­drawal could go a few months in ei­ther di­rec­tion.

Mr John­son ex­pressed sur­prise that his de­ci­sion to set out his per­sonal red lines for Brexit in an eve-of-con­fer­ence ar­ti­cle in the Sun should have over­shad­owed the Prime Min­is­ter’s ef­forts to fo­cus at­ten­tion on the Con­ser­va­tives’ do­mes­tic agenda at a time when the party is trail­ing Labour in the polls.

He told the Daily Tele­graph: “I think, ac­tu­ally, if you stud­ied what I said, it was ba­si­cally Govern­ment pol­icy. I think it’s ex­traor­di­nary that so much fuss has been made about re­peat­ing Govern­ment pol­icy, but there you go.”

But he came un­der fire form se­nior back­bencher Nicky Mor­gan, who said Mr John­son “had to go” un­less he could show his loy­alty to the Govern­ment.

And the Bri­tish Cham­bers of Com­merce warned that Cab­i­net feud­ing was dam­ag­ing busi­ness con­fi­dence, in a sting­ing re­buke on the day of Mr Ham­mond’s key­note ad­dress to the con­fer­ence.

BCC di­rec­tor-gen­eral Adam Mar­shall said busi­nesses wanted a tran­si­tion pe­riod of at least three years, ad­ding: “Pub­lic dis­agree­ments be­tween Cab­i­net min­is­ters in re­cent weeks have only served to un­der­mine busi­ness con­fi­dence, not just on Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions but also on the many is­sues where firms need to see clear ac­tion from govern­ment closer to home.”

Mr Ham­mond ac­knowl­edged that the Cab­i­net was split over the na­ture of Bri­tain’s with­drawal from the EU, telling Sky News: “We know, on this big is­sue of how we take for­ward our exit from the Euro­pean Union, what type of re­la­tion­ship we should have with the Euro­pean Union in the future, there are dif­fer­ences of view, no­body is deny­ing that.”

Min­is­ters were “frus­trated” by the slow progress of talks in Brus­sels, but Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis’s hand was be­ing weak­ened by signs of dis­unity within the Govern­ment, he said.

Asked whether Mr John­son should be sacked, the Chan­cel­lor point­edly told ITV’s Good Morn­ing Bri­tain: “We all serve at the Prime Min­is­ter’s plea­sure and we all owe the Prime Min­is­ter our al­le­giance and our loy­alty within the Cab­i­net.

“I have al­ways op­er­ated on the prin­ci­ple that it is prob­a­bly best to believe that no­body is un­sack­able. Ev­ery­body has got to pull their weight within the Govern­ment.”

Mr Ham­mond said Mrs May had his “100% sup­port” and that he would back her if she chose to fight the next gen­eral elec­tion as Tory leader. He flatly de­nied re­ports that he of­fered Mr John­son his sup­port in any lead­er­ship bid in a 4am text on the night of the dis­as­trous June 8 elec­tion.

The Chan­cel­lor said the whole Cab­i­net, in­clud­ing Mr John­son, had signed up to the Brexit ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion set out by Mrs May in her Florence speech last month when she proposed a tran­si­tion pe­riod of “around two years” af­ter Bri­tain leaves the EU.

Mr Ham­mond ad­mit­ted that un­cer­tainty over Brexit was harm­ing the UK econ­omy.

The con­tin­u­ing fo­cus on Mr John­son’s am­bi­tions came as Mr Ham­mond fought to shift at­ten­tion on the do­mes­tic agenda with the an­nounce­ment of £400 mil­lion for trans­port links in the North of Eng-

“Said Mr John­son had to go un­less he could show his loy­alty to the govern­ment”

land. Some £300mil­lion will be used to en­sure cities like Liver­pool, Manch­ester, Sh­effield, Leeds, York and Le­ices­ter can be linked up with the HS2 high-speed rail route be­tween Lon­don and the North.

And a fur­ther £100 mil­lion will go into lo­cal road schemes to cut con­ges­tion and un­lock new sites for homes and busi­nesses in the North.

De­fence Sec­re­tary Sir Michael Fal­lon joined his Cab­i­net col­leagues in slap­ping down Mr John­son.

In a ref­er­ence to the row over Mr John­son’s comments, Scot­tish Tory leader Ruth Davidson - touted as a potential suc­ces­sor to Mrs May - used a con­fer­ence fringe event to tell her MSPs: “If any of you think of writ­ing any­thing, with­out telling me, that is counter to cur­rent Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive pol­icy; you are out on your ear be­cause no­body is un­sack­able.”

She said Mr John­son had in­sisted that his comments had been in line with Mrs May’s pol­icy but added: “If I was able to in­ter­pret the ac­tions, and the thought process be­hind the ac­tions of the For­eign Sec­re­tary, then I think I could make a bet­ter liv­ing do­ing that than I do now.”

Theresa May, above, has en­joyed the sup­port of top Tories at con­fer­ence, like Scots Sec­re­tary David Mun­dell, be­low

UNITY CALL: Philip Ham­mond has warned that Govern­ment dis­unity is harm­ing the UK’s Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions

Tory MP Ja­cob Rees-Mogg

Boris John­son re­turns to the hall

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