What sort of Brexit does Philip Hammond want? – BBC News
What does Chancellor Philip Hammond’s increasingly vocal stance on Brexit say about his intentions, his prime minister and his party?
Is the chancellor intent on using his soft power to take on the hard Brexiteers? He’s certainly using it to isolate one very vulnerable prime minister.
Mr Hammond, while seemingly content to let her remain in political limbo, has also vented his frustration about his boss, making it clear that Theresa May’s team had made sure he had been shut away during the election, forbidden to talk about the economy.
He has suggested that this was the key, fatal, majority-losing mistake.
His message now: “It’s the economy, stupid,” and that goes for Brexit too.
Monday’s talks in Brussels are one baby step on a long journey to a new future.
The election has changed everything. There are those in the Conservative Party who think the lesson was clear: hard Brexit has been rejected.
“Our power is now limited. To say it is a mess is to state the bleeding obvious,” one former minister, an ardent campaigner for Leave, told us.
A former minister on the other side of the debate made it clear she had kept her seat because she was an ardent Remainer and was pinning her hopes on the chancellor softening Brexit.
Whether or not the chancellor is “on manoeuvres”, Mr Hammond is certainly marshalling his arguments.
A planned Mansion House speech was postponed because of the Grenfell fire, but was briefed as potentially lobbing a missile into Number 10 and that the chancellor was toying with the idea of arguing to stay in the Customs Union.
He hasn’t done that. Instead, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that he would prioritise the economy, jobs and skills, while adding: “We’re leaving the EU and because we’re leaving the EU we will be leaving the single market. And by the way, we’ll be leaving the Customs Union.” The postponed speech will now be delivered on Tuesday 20 June.
In a wider context, to understand the chancellor’s language you have to decode the debate and the movement of the Tories biggest beasts, those who consider themselves the natural rulers, who feel that those they see as rebels, or Leavers, have seized control of their citadel.
It looks as if a counter-strike by these forces is unfolding before our eyes.
Consider: two former prime ministers, John Major and David Cameron, who were humiliated by Eurosceptics, have backed Mr Hammond’s view, calling for the economy to be put first and for an agreement on Brexit with other parties.
So has former Conservative leader William Hague. So has the only Tory hero of the hour, Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservatives’ leader.
Almost unnoticed, the generally rather underwhelming reshuffle was at the heart of the coup.
Chancellor Phillip Hammond secure in place, Remainer Damien Green elevated to First Secretary of State, Remainer Gavin Barwell, former Croydon MP, the prime minister’s new chief of staff, a critical appointment.
Brexit Secretary David Davis’s top team has been eviscerated. His main ministerial enthusiast for leaving the EU, David Jones, was sacked without warning. The other resigned. The department didn’t know it was coming. More importantly, Mr Davis didn’t know it was coming.
One ally and former minister told us: “It’s a major blow. David is now isolated, he is concerned that half his senior team have been swept from beneath him.”
Another friend ruefully admitted that Mr Davis’s hand had been weakened by the loss of close allies but is hoping he is strong enough to stand firm without them.