ConservativeHome reported last week that allies of Philip Hammond were dismayed by the battering he took in our latest Cabinet League Table. We suggested that –
“if raising his standing among activists is important to him, he could try two things during the run-up to Party Conference. First, ensure that the Treasury co-operates fully with Downing Street’s coming drive to publicise good news about Brexit more forcefully. And, second, make it clear that he is neither trying to “stop Brexit” – which is all but impossible in any event, given how the Article 50 process works – nor to turn any implementation period into a permanent EEA-style arrangement. In doing both, he would be preparing the ground for something much more important than our surveys – namely, restoring his political support within the Party before his Autumn budget, or trying to”.
It seems from today’s Sun that the Chancellor has no intention of waiting that long. Under the headline, “Panicky Treasury chiefs tried to slow Brexit down to a decade-long process, but were ignored by Philip Hammond”, it says that –
“Insiders claim mandarins pushed for a transitional deal with the EU that could have had the UK staying in the Single Market and Customs Union for a decade, but were ignored by Philip Hammond.”
Instead the Chancellor has demanded “a period of at the most three years.”
He told the BBC last month there was “a broad consensus that this process has to be completed by the time the scheduled time of the next general election which is in June 2022.”
But sources tell The Sun some Treasury beancounters wanted the transition to be much longer, with one saying “they all think Brexit is a crime against the Holy Ghost”.
And one Whitehall official last night branded the Treasury “Remain Central”.
The Chancellor won’t suddenly stop defending the interests of business and the City as he believes them to be. But it rather looks as though Operation Brexitise Hammond is under way.
His co-authored article with Liam Fox in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph was another sign of it – though perhaps less so than of the Damian Green/Gavin Williamson/Gavin Barwell/Robbie Gibb axis that now runs Number 10 getting the Government’s act together.
For the weekend papers also told us that the Prime Minister is to make a major Brexit speech soonish, and that David Davis is to unleash a torrent of negotiation position papers, in an attempt to make the talks about more than just money.
The Hammond/Fox article largely told us what we already knew but the Chancellor has under-stressed: namely, that any transition or implementation period after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019 will be temporary.
It didn’t set a date but, as the Sun points out, Hammond has already said that “a broad consensus that this process has to be completed by the scheduled time of the next general election which is in June 2022″. He appears to have given ground over the customs union.
He could reasonably be expected to back an implementation period which runs until May 2022, the maximum period consistent with those words, as championed recently on this site by Nick Boles.
Fox shows no sign of wanting to wait for that long, but May’s coming Brexit speech will presumably clear the matter up, and agree a position behind which the Cabinet will be expected to rally.
Treasury civil servants won’t be thrilled to read their boss dissing them in the tabloids but, hey, that’s politics. Now Hammond must ensure that his department gets behind Downing Street’s coming push to publicise Brexit upsides more aggressively.