Rifts within beleaguered Theresa May’s cabinet over how to handle Brexit have been exposed during a public row between some of the government’s most senior figures.
Divisions between Chancellor Philip Hammond, Brexit secretary David Davis and foreign secretary Boris Johnson – all contenders to replace May should she resign or be pushed out as PM – have been on public display.
Internecine strife broke out after Davis and Hammond offered different visions of what will occur after the Article 50 process has ended in March 2019.
Brexiteer Davis accused Hammond of inconsistency over his call for a transitional phase that would allow the UK to stay in the customs union, despite that meaning the UK would not immediately be able to make its own trade deals.
Davis said Hammond had said “a number of things that are not quite consistent with each other” and said Britain would negotiate its own trade deals after March 2019.
The public spat is likely to fuel speculation that May, weakened after losing the Tories their parliamentary majority, is unable to manage the competing opinions on Brexit that are present in her cabinet.
Moderate Hammond – who favours a “jobs first” Brexit – fired a shot at Boris Johnson, leading figure of the leave campaign.
During the referendum campaign Johnson boasted of Britain “having our cake and eating it” during the EU negotiations, prompting Hammond to open a speech to German business leaders by saying he was “trying to discourage talk of cake amongst my colleagues”.
“The question is not whether to have cake, or eat it or even who has the largest slice,” Hammond said.
“The question that matters is whether we can be smart enough to work out how to continue collaborating together to keep the cake expanding for the benefit of all.”