Boris on the brink of quitting over EU row, says Cable: Foreign Secretary accuses Lib Dem leader of ‘peddling lies’ as he says he is ‘working closely’ with Hammond
Boris Johnson was last night forced to deny he is on the verge of quitting over Brexit last night amid claims the Cabinet is descending into ‘civil war’.
Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable claimed tensions over Brexit, which have erupted in recent days, could end with the departure of the Foreign Secretary from government.
Mr Johnson’s aides initially declined to comment.
But, after hours of deliberating, a spokesman for the Foreign Secretary issued a statement last night insisting he was working in harmony with Mr Hammond and accusing the Lib Dem leader of ‘peddling lies’.
Senior Tories dismissed the claim as ‘mischief’ and questioned whether Sir Vince and Mr Johnson had any ‘mutual friends’ who could have passed on the Foreign Secretary’s private thoughts.
Sir Vince, a former Coalition cabinet minister, claimed recent days had exposed a ‘deep, unbridgeable chasm between the Brexit fundamentalists and the pragmatists’.
He added: ‘Businesses which might have hoped that Phillip Hammond had pulled the government back from a commitment to a catastrophic cliff edge, crashing out of the EU, have been misled.
‘There is no cabinet consensus for moderation. And the rumours of Boris Johnson being about to resign fuel the uncertainty.’
A spokesman for Mr Johnson hit back angrily last night, saying: ‘Boris and Philip Hammond are working closely to take the UK out of the EU, and are not going to be diverted from that important task.
‘Vince Cable is making his stuff up.
‘Maybe he should take more time to think up some policies rather than waste his time on peddling lies.’
The extraordinary row came amid renewed cabinet tensions over Brexit yesterday.
Senior Tory sources last night said that neither Mr Johnson nor International Trade Secretary Liam Fox were made fully aware in advance of the scale of Mr Hammond’s proposals for a three-year ‘transition’ from Brexit that could see migration from the EU continue unchecked until 2022.
Both men were out of the country on trade missions last week when plans for a Brexit transition deal were set out by Mr Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
Mr Hammond claimed that the Cabinet was united behind his vision for a draw-out departure from the EU. He said ‘literally nobody’ was seeking a ‘cliff edge’ end to mass immigration from the EU, despite the government’s manifesto commitment to slash net migration to under 100,000 a year.
But a source close to Dr Fox said he had not signed up to any agreement on how immigration from the EU should be managed during a Brexit transition.
‘There is broad agreement that there needs to be some form of implementation period and that it needs to be completed before the next election,’ the source said. ‘But as to what that implementation period looks like or how long it lasts – all that is still for debate.’
A leading ally of Mr Johnson also warned that any transitional deal should be limited to two years, rather than the three favoured by the Chancellor.
Gerard Lyons, a former economic adviser to Mr Johnson, also compared ‘alarmist’ warnings of a Brexit ‘cliff edge’ to the hysteria over the so-called Millennium Bug, which failed to materialise.
In a swipe at the Chancellor, Mr Lyons said: ‘Enough is enough. The leader is away so those in other senior roles seem to think they can play. The trouble is new ideas on Brexit should not be floated in public in the way they currently are, as if Government policy is being made by whoever can occupy the news agenda for that day.’
Dr Fox, who was in the United States when Mr Hammond made his announcement, told the Sunday Times that any attempt to allow free movement to continue beyond 2019 would ‘not keep faith’ with the referendum result.
‘If there have been discussions on that, I have not been party to them,’ he said. ‘I have not been involved in any discussion on that.
‘We made it clear that control of our own borders was one of the elements we wanted in the referendum and unregulated free movement would seem to me not to keep faith with that decision.’
But allies of Mr Hammond insisted he was helping steer the Cabinet on a ‘sensible’ course on Brexit.
One minister sympathetic to the Chancellor said: ‘Hammond is on top of his argument. Fox, Gove and Johnson are in fantasy land – they don’t have a clue. They are taking ideological positions.’
The Foreign Secretary was keeping his counsel on the issue last night. But it is understood that Mr Johnson was also kept in the dark about how far Mr Hammond would go in claiming Cabinet unity on immigration.
Mr Johnson told reporters in Australia that he had not even seen a letter from Miss Rudd to the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee in which she suggests EU citizens will simply have to register with the authorities if they want to continue coming to Britain after March 2019.
Asked about it, he said: ‘I have not seen the study which you talk of because I have been travelling for the last week.’
The revelations will fuel concerns among Eurosceptic Tories that Mr Hammond took advantage of the absence of Theresa May and leading Brexiteers to try to bounce the cabinet into accepting his vision of Brexit.
One leading campaigner last night called for Mr Hammond to be sacked.
Richard Tice, co-chairman of the campaign group Leave Means Leave, said Mr Hammond’s support for a wide-ranging, lengthy transition raised fears he was paving the way for keeping Britain in the EU in all but name.
‘Philip Hammond’s vision of Brexit is that there is basically no change,’ he said. ‘It is quite clear that he is the cabinet voice of the CBI’s rearguard action to dilute Brexit to such a great degree that it isn’t Brexit at all. That effort is gathering pace – you can see it in this call for the longest possible transition where nothing changes. That would be a complete betrayal of what the public voted for last year.
‘If Mr Hammond doesn’t agree with the vision of Brexit set out by Theresa May before the election then he should resign. Failing that, the Prime Minister should sack him.’
Government sources said the Cabinet was agreed on the need for a transitional deal to allow more time to put in place new customs and immigration regimes and to give businesses longer to adapt their systems.’
One source said the introduction of a registration system for EU nationals arriving after Brexit would introduce ‘an element of control’, but acknowledged that some ministers wanted to go further.
July 30th, 2017: Daily Mail