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A Cabinet minister failed today to paper over glaring Cabinet rifts on Brexit and public sector pay.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling sought to claim the Conservative Party was “united behind Theresa May” and united over getting the right Brexit deal, after an extraordinary weekend bust-up between Chancellor Philip Hammond and Cabinet colleagues.
But pressed over relations between Mr Hammond and Brexit Cabinet ministers, he stopped short of denying there were divisions.
Asked on BBC radio if the Chancellor was “four-square” with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, he responded: “What do you mean by four-square? We are Conservatives. We are determined to make sure we succeed, do the right thing for the country.”
Asked later whether he backed a Brexit transition period of at least two years, which Mr Hammond is pushing, he said: “It’s one of the options for all of us to consider.”
The Chancellor had accused fellow ministers of seeking to undermine him for championing a Brexit which put jobs and the economy ahead of immigration concerns. Mr Hammond was reported to have told a Cabinet meeting last week that public sector workers were “overpaid”.
Today he was accused of trying to frustrate Brexit and treating pro-Leave ministers like “pirates who have taken him prisoner”. He has so far resisted demands by Mr Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove to ease a one per cent cap on public sector pay.
Mr Grayling today denied he was briefing against the Chancellor, as did allies of Mr Johnson, Mr Gove, Brexit Secretary David Davis and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
The Transport Secretary also insisted Mr Hammond had not said public sector staff were overpaid, but had made a comparison that included their pensions, which are more generous than most in the private sector. But Tory former Cabinet minister David Mellor said there was “anarchy” at the heart of government. The Chancellor’s allies deny he is trying to frustrate Brexit.
Mr Davis launched another round of talks in Brussels with the European Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
They will focus on the future rights of EU nationals living in the UK and Britons in EU nations, the “divorce bill” and the Northern Ireland border. With warnings that Britain is already running out of time to strike a good deal, Mr Davis said it was “incredibly important” to make progress.
A senior Tory today accused Government whips of dragging their feet on choosing members of Commons committees, warning a delay until after the summer recess, which starts on Friday, would protect ministers from scrutiny. Nicky Morgan, new chair of the Treasury committee, said: “Ministers and whips might breathe a sigh of relief.”
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