Tory party split laid bare after Theresa May gets go-ahead to sack disloyal ministers

'There is a need to show strength and unity as a country and that starts around the Cabinet table' 

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 18 July 2017 22:28 BST
Theresa May and then-Chancellor George Osborne at a Cabinet meeting in January 2015
Theresa May and then-Chancellor George Osborne at a Cabinet meeting in January 2015

The divisions tearing apart the Conservative party have been laid bare as backbench MPs told the Prime Minister she has their backing to sack disloyal cabinet ministers.

Charles Walker, a vice-chairman of the influential Conservative backbench 1922 committee, said he and his colleagues would support Theresa May in firing ministers who were “focusing on their own personal ambitions” rather than getting on with their jobs.

He spoke out after sustained attacks on the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, who has been on the receiving end of a series of leaked conversations, which claimed he had displayed sexist attitudes and described public sector workers as “overpaid”.

One unnamed minister separately accused Mr Hammond of trying to “fuck up” Brexit.

Ms May was yesterday forced to try and reassert her authority in a showdown cabinet meeting, where she spelt out that the rows being played out in public were undermining the Government.

Warring Cabinet ministers agreed to stop briefing against each other after being read the riot act by Theresa May, a spokesman for No 10 said.

There was “widespread agreement” that the leaking of damaging stories from the recent weekly meeting of the Cabinet had to end, Downing Street insisted.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the “mood in the room” was that the Government was being damaged by the failure to keep its private discussions under wraps.

Ms May laid bare her frustration by telling her Cabinet that some of its members had failed to take their responsibilities seriously.

“There is a need to show strength and unity as a country and that starts around the Cabinet table,” she said, her spokesman told reporters.

At the weekend, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond all-but admitted a report that he had told the Cabinet that public sector workers are “overpaid” – while denying he said “even a woman” can drive a train.

The leaks of his remarks in Cabinet meetings have made front-page headlines in recent days, prompting claims they are coming from rival ministers.

Mr Hammond then claimed his colleagues were out to get him because they are “not happy with the agenda that I have” on Brexit, which is to strike a lengthy transitional exit deal.

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Ms May said she had tried to encourage open discussion of policy within Cabinet, but it was vital for the Government that this remained private, her spokesman said.

“The PM said that the briefings and counter-briefings over the weekend had been a case of colleagues not taking their responsibilities seriously,” he added.

“She said the government would make better decisions if colleagues were able to hold open discussions, but it was vital that discussions in Cabinet must remain private.”

Following yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, Mr Walker said he was “very angry” about the feuding.

“The party is united behind the Prime Minister,” he said. “And those who have leadership ambitions should really try to understand that. They are not doing themselves any favours at all.

“If the Prime Minister has to start removing secretaries of state because they are not focusing on their job, they are focusing on their own personal ambitions, so be it, and she will have the support of the 1922 committee.”

Mr Walker added: “The vast majority of members of parliament wish to see Theresa May continue as prime minister and get on with the job.”

Meanwhile, in the Commons chamber, Mr Hammond appeared to send a message to his Cabinet enemies, telling MPs: “I don’t feel particularly enfeebled.”

The Chancellor also risked further Tory backbiting by saying he wanted to “build consensus” with Labour and other parties to soften the terms of Brexit.

He spoke after being asked by Chris Leslie, a leading pro-EU Labour MP, if it was true that he was pushing for a longer transitional period that would keep close economic ties with the EU.

If so, that was “welcome news”, Mr Leslie said, adding that this approach “might be able to secure a lot of support on all sides of the House”.

In reply, the Chancellor said: “In an issue as important to our nation’s future as our exit from the European Union, I welcome any opportunity to build consensus across the House and across the nation.”

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