Philip Hammond last night launched a personal attack on former foreign secretary Boris Johnson
Philip Hammond last night launched a blistering personal attack on Boris Johnson.
He said the former foreign secretary was incapable of ‘grown-up’ politics and did not have a clue how his own proposal for a Brexit deal would work.
On the eve of his speech to the Tory Party conference, the Chancellor also said Mr Johnson was doomed to fail in his bid to be the next Conservative prime minister.
‘I don’t expect it to happen,’ he told the Daily Mail in a candid and wide-ranging interview.
Mr Hammond revealed he had repeatedly told Mr Johnson that his ‘Canada-style’ plan would not work – but Mr Johnson made no serious attempt to defend it.
In a withering put down, he said Mr Johnson’s main political achievement was ‘Boris Bikes’ in his days as London Mayor and he had no grasp of ‘detail’ when it came to matters of state like Brexit.
Mr Hammond shrugged off his cautious ‘Fiscal Phil’ image and openly mocked Mr Johnson by doing an impression of his trademark plummy vowels and stuttering bluff manner.
Asked about Mr Johnson’s attack on Mrs May’s Brexit plan as ‘supine’ and ‘deranged’, he said: ‘Boris is a wonderful character, but he’s never been a detail man. I’ve had many discussions with him on Brexit.’
When the pair discussed a ‘Canada’ style trade deal, ‘Boris sits there and at the end of it he says ‘yeah but, er, there must be a way, I mean, if you just, if you, erm, come on, we can do it Phil, we can do it. I know we can get there.’ ‘And that’s it!’ exclaimed the Chancellor, mimicking the Old Etonian.
He continued: ‘You know? No rebuttal of the arguments.’
Then Mr Hammond resumed his Boris impression: ‘We just have to want it a bit more, we just have to wish a bit harder, we just have to be a bit more bullish and it will all be fine.’ But it won’t all be fine because we are dealing with grown ups here and we have to deal with the real world situation we face.’
Mr Hammond said Mr Johnson (pictured yesterday) was incapable of ‘grown-up’ politics and did not have a clue how his own proposal for a Brexit deal would work
It came as:
- Mrs May rounded on Mr Johnson for questioning her commitment to leaving the EU declaring for the first time: ‘I believe in Brexit’.
- Mr Johnson stepped up his rhetoric against the Chequers deal, describing it as ‘deranged’.
- A new poll found that 64 per cent of Conservative voters want MPs to back whatever deal Mrs May comes back with from Brussels.
- Former Brexit secretary David Davis said there was an 80-90 per cent chance a Brexit deal would be struck, but said brinkmanship by the EU would result in a ‘very scary few months’.
- Michael Gove said he would be ‘open’ to the idea of a Canada-style trade deal if the EU rejects the Chequers deal, warning that a no deal exit was ‘not something I contemplate with a glad heart’.
- Mrs May joined a standing ovation for former CBI chief Digby Jones, after he described Mr Johnson as ‘irrelevant and offensive’.
Mr Hammond’s outspoken remarks reflect a growing fury among Mrs May’s Cabinet allies at Mr Johnson’s increasingly provocative attacks on her handling of Brexit negotiations.
Mr Johnson’s call for a free trade deal based on a similar agreement between Canada and the EU is backed by many Tory MPs, and reportedly, by a growing number of ministers.
It threatens to turn the Conservative conference into a political bloodbath and risk toppling Mrs May.
The Chancellor also claimed Mr Johnson was doomed in his bid to become the next Tory Prime Minister
Mr Hammond told the Mail he had had ‘countless’ discussions on Brexit with Mr Johnson when they served in the Cabinet together.
‘He never argued back. He listened to what I was saying and then just said ‘we gotta go for it, we gotta go for it, there must be a way.’
Belittling Mr Johnson’s track record, the Chancellor said his ‘political experience is the triumph of will, of personality, that’s his experience as London mayor. What were Boris’ policies as mayor?
‘You can think of one or two like Boris bikes. But I’m afraid when you are negotiating with the EU, you have to look at the facts and details.’
Mr Gloomy? I’m a realist and optimist
Brexiteer Tory MPs love to call Philip Hammond ‘Mr Gloomy’ over his ‘Project Fear’ warnings of the dangers of leaving the EU without a deal.
But in his interview with the Daily Mail, he smiled and said: ‘I don’t recognise in myself the person I read about in the paper.
‘Relentlessly negative? Downbeat? Always nitpicking? That’s not me at all. I don’t think I’m gloomy, but I do think I’m a realist. We have to understand the facts. But I’m an optimist for Britain.’
When his ‘Mr Gloomy’ image was raised in the interview, his wife Susan, sitting nearby, burst out laughing.
However, she is not so sanguine about personal barbs hurled at him, such as ‘tin eared’, ‘arrogant’ and insensitive’, saying: ‘It is horrible reading about it.’
Mr Hammond vowed to carry on spelling out the economic facts about Brexit – however unpopular it makes him – but is determined to show off his optimistic side. ‘We’re treading water, noses above the waterline, but what we do next is crucial,’ he said.
It was vital to understand the EU’s position to have any hope of reaching an agreement with them.
‘That’s not supine, that’s not capitulation. Anyone who’s ever done any negotiation will tell you it’s just simple common sense that you need to understand the position of your opponent to negotiate effectively with them.’
Mr Hammond denied that Mrs May’s Brexit deal was effectively dead in the water. Invited to compare it with the famous Monty Python TV sketch, he joked the Chequers plan was ‘not an ex parrot’.
He said Mr Johnson’s deal was ‘wishful thinking’ and would not work because it could lead to a return to terrorism in Northern Ireland; would split Britain from Northern Ireland; cause delays in lorries crossing the Channel which would put food prices up – and the UK would have to cough up the £39 billion EU ‘divorce’ bill before Brussels agreed to detailed talks on any such deal.
‘For all the noise I’ve heard from colleagues, Canada is just not on offer,’ he said. ‘Unless we want to carve Northern Ireland from the country, a Canada style agreement is not on offer (from the EU). And if we did do that Nicola Sturgeon would demand the same for Scotland within minutes.
‘I for one am not prepared to sign up to any solution that would break up the UK. The single market of the UK and shared prosperity we have in the UK is far more valuable to us than any (EU) deal we might do.
‘A lot of people in Ireland feel strongly about the open border being a symbol of the success of the Good Friday Agreement. A closed border would signal to many that we were going backwards. You can’t rule out the risk out that that would give succour to terrorists as well as criminals. For decades terrorism in Northern Ireland was intimately connected with organised crime, particularly across the border.’
And he issued a fresh warning to Brussels that they must reconsider their flat rejection of Mrs May’s Chequers plan.
‘The EU can’t just sit there and say it doesn’t work. They have got to come back and tell us which bits don’t work and why.’
Labour’s ‘Stalinist’ economics
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s economic plans have been compared by Philip Hammond to Stalin’s policies which led to a grain famine which killed four million in the Soviet Union.
A Corbyn-led government could also lead to a return to the ‘squalor’ of the 1970s Labour government when streets were piled with rubbish in a wave of strikes, said the Chancellor.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, he said ‘ruinous’ policies unveiled last week were a wake-up call to the Tories on ‘how dangerous Labour would be in government’. Their plan to force firms to hand over up to 10 per cent of shares to boost workers’ rights would have a ‘chilling’ effect on industry and turn the UK into a ‘pariah’ for investment.
It amounted to the ‘confiscation of wealth’, he said, and warned that ‘Marxist’ Mr McDonnell posed a more sinister threat than Mr Corbyn.
Mr Hammond said: ‘As Stalin found out, [if] you take the grain from the peasant that they intended to plant for next year’s crop, next year you haven’t got a crop because they didn’t plant.
‘If you undermine people’s confidence in the economy … investment will stop. And if that happens we go backwards.’