Friday, December 15, 2017

A former cabinet minister has warned Theresa May that most Conservative MPs oppose sacking Philip Hammond, as Brexiteers’ attacks on the Chancellor increase.

Nicky Morgan condemned sniping that Mr Hammond’s time is up as “self-indulgent”, as Brexit storm clouds darken and a crucial Budget looms next month.

It came as the Democratic Unionist Party strongly denied a report that it blamed him for splitting the Cabinet over Brexit and wanted the Prime Minister “to rein her Chancellor in”.

Nevertheless, pressure on Mr Hammond is growing after his gaffe last week, when he was forced to apologise for calling the EU “the enemy”.

One minister told The Sunday Times that the Chancellor should be replaced by a Brexit-backing alternative, such as Michael Gove, who was at least “inventive and proactive”.

But Ms Morgan, the former Education Secretary, speaking on ITV’s Peston on Sunday programme, said: “Of course he shouldn’t be sacked. I think those who are saying that he should be sacked are incredibly self-indulgent.”

She said she had been contacted by a female cabinet minister – immediately assumed by many to be Home Secretary Amber Rudd – who was “appalled by what’s going on”.

“It’s not on to have all of this. It is not helpful for anybody to have ministers being attacked, whether it is the Chancellor or the Foreign Secretary when something as critical as Brexit negotiations are going on,” Ms Morgan added.

“The majority of MPs in the parliamentary party do not want Philip Hammond to be sacked.”

Hardline Brexiteers are gunning for him for refusing to spend huge sums of money now to show the EU that Britain is ready for a “no deal” Brexit, if necessary.

Meanwhile, other Tories are frustrated that Mr Hammond’s Thatcherite caution is standing in the way of voter-friendly but costly policies that could revive the party’s fortunes.

The Sunday Telegraph claimed the DUP believed the Chancellor was “frustrating the negotiating process” and that the Prime Minister should order him to stop.

But a source denied the claim, saying: “We don’t recognise this anonymous and inaccurate briefing as coming from any DUP parliamentary source.”

It is thought the timing of the Budget – on November 22 – makes it all but impossible for the Prime Minister to get rid of Mr Hammond, even if she wants to.

However, with Brexiteer Tories demanding his head as a quid pro quo if Boris Johnson is sacked, that could also make it impossible to shift her rebellious Foreign Secretary.

Over the weekend, business leaders gave their strong backing to Mr Hammond, in an attempt to bolster his position.

The Confederation of British Industry’s president, Paul Drechsler, said: “The Chancellor is working tirelessly with cabinet colleagues to get the best possible deal for the UK and should be supported in his efforts.”

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Personality politics and public division do nothing to shore up business confidence or instil faith that the economy is being put first.”

And a spokesperson for the EEF Manufacturers’ Organisation said: “The current Chancellor has so far done a good job of both highlighting the dangers and trying to offset the problems we face, by supporting common sense over dogma.”