A new cabinet rift has erupted between Michael Gove and Philip Hammond, after the environment secretary launched a stinging attack on the chancellor, blaming his Treasury Department for recent Brexit defeats in the Lords.
The attack is just the latest illustration of cabinet tensions boiling over, in what is fast becoming a Brexit soap opera with Brexiteers and Remainers at each other’s throats.
In a scathing letter addressed to ministers, Gove singled out Hammond’s department, accusing it of not heeding his department’s (DEFRA) warnings about the need to at least replicate “the status quo” when it came to environmental regulations. He believes this risked defeat in the House of Lords, where the government has already suffered 15 government defeats over Brexit legislation.
In his letter he accused Hammond’s department of “short-sightedness,” writing: “We argued that the reality of the parliamentary arithmetic meant we would be defeated if we chose to publish a weak consultation. Defra’s arguments were not accepted as a result of Treasury opposition.”
It’s been reported that Gove favoured giving a post-Brexit watchdog the authority to fine central and local government if they failed to meet environmental targets on pollution and recycling. In turn, Hammond is thought to have been against this proposal, arguing that it would burden authorities with unnecessary “red tape” or regulation.
A Treasury source reportedly told the Telegraph: “It is clearly wrong to blame the Treasury for this. Philip has worked closely with Michael to support the government’s environmental agenda, including on plans for a plastic waste tax.”
It comes after a series of disputes between cabinet ministers on the subject of Brexit.
Business Insider reported in November 2017 that David Davis was “furious” with arch-Brexiteers Michael Gove and Boris Johnson for what he saw as “meddling” with a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May which expressed their fears about UK preparations for leaving the bloc.
“He [Davis] was furious with Boris and Michael for their intervention… He wants to demonstrate he’s in charge and in control. He’s angry that other people are interfering,” said an ally of Davis, according to the Times.
In April 2018, the Times reported that May risked a leadership challenge over supposed plans for Britain to remain in the customs union. Johnson and Liam Fox, the trade secretary, were said to be ready to lead a fight to leave the customs union and avoid Britain collecting EU tariffs.
One Tory backbencher told the Conservative Home website: “If there’s a cave-in on the customs union, I think there will be a leadership challenge.”
Earlier this month, Foreign Secretary Johnson appeared to challenge the authority of the UK PM, when he labelled May’s favored “customs partnership” as a “crazy” option to avoid a hard border in Ireland, in an interview with the Daily Mail.
“If you have the new customs partnership, you have a crazy system whereby you end up collecting the tariffs on behalf of the EU at the U.K. frontier.”
Brexit ministers, Suella Braverman and Robin Walker, updated the Commons Brexit committee this morning on how customs plans were progressing.
If you like this story, share it with a friend!