Brexit secretary David Davis kicks off a second round of key negotiations in Brussels this morning, with the Cabinet still mired in infighting over differing approaches to the talks.
Davis has urged both sides to “get down to business” following a wave of Westminster briefings against chancellor Philip Hammond.
Last night an unnamed member of the Cabinet became the latest minister to lash out at Hammond and his
department, telling the Telegraph: “What’s really going on is that the establishment, the Treasury, is trying to **** it up. They want to frustrate Brexit.”
Several comments made in closed-door Cabinet meetings have been leaked in the run-up to the talks, resulting in negative stories about the chancellor. Hammond favours a steady transition as the UK leaves the EU, in contrast to some of his colleagues who want a quicker and harder Brexit.
Yesterday, Hammond denied that in one Cabinet meeting he described modern trains as so easy to drive that “even” a woman could do it.
However, he did not deny saying that public sector workers are overpaid – an alleged comment he made that was also leaked to a newspaper.
“I think my colleagues should focus on the job that we’ve been elected to do,” Hammond told the BBC yesterday.
“Some of the noise is generated by people who are not happy with the agenda that I have, over the last weeks, tried to advance of ensuring that we achieve a Brexit which is focused on protecting our economy, protecting our jobs and making sure that we can have continued rising living standards in the future.”
Hammond is believed to have clashed with colleagues such as Davis and trade minister Liam Fox over the government’s Brexit priorities, and specifically the length of a proposed transition period. But yesterday he said “I think most people are willing to accept a transition, so long as it’s of a limited duration,” while Fox, speaking separately, insisted he does not have “a problem with the transition period as long as it is time-limited” and allows the UK to negotiate new trade deals.
Fox said he “deplored” the leaking of private comments made in Cabinet meetings, urging colleagues to “be very quiet [and] stick to their own departmental duties”.
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith had an even stronger message for Cabinet ministers. “Just for once shut up, for god’s sake,” he said, arguing that Tory backbenchers are frustrated by senior members of the government seemingly vying to be the next party leader.
First secretary of state Damian Green, who is effectively deputy prime minister to Theresa May, joined the chorus of Tories calling on colleagues to stop the bickering.
“Everyone is desperate to get on their sun loungers and go on holiday – and frankly the sooner they do the better,” Green said.