As Boris Johnson's holiday in Marbella gets underway, back home his ministers are making headlines for infighting following a hostile briefing from the Treasury. The stark rise in energy prices has led industry leaders to warn that some UK factories are at risk of closure within days unless the government steps in to help with spiralling fuel costs. But there appears to be little unity among ministers as to the right response.
In a Sunday media round, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng spoke of the steps he was taking to try to ease the pressure on businesses. Kwarteng told Sky News:
'What I’m very clear about is we need to help them get through this situation — it’s a difficult situation, gas prices, electricity prices are at very high levels right across the world and of course I’m speaking to government colleagues particularly in the Treasury to try and see a way through this.'
This came as news to those working closely with the Chancellor. A Treasury source swiftly responded:
'This is not the first time the BEIS secretary has made things up in interviews. To be crystal clear, the Treasury are not involved in any talks'.
The personal rebuke points to simmering tensions between the two sides, with government insiders accusing Kwarteng of having a tendency to go off script in interviews and public appearances.
The upshot of the row is that the Treasury is keen to shut down any talk of a bailout or new package for businesses struggling with the jump in prices of wholesale gas. Unlike household consumers who in some cases are protected by the energy price cap, industry is particularly vulnerable to sudden changes.
However, the fact that ministers fear the upward trend could be something that lasts for months and months, rather than a temporary glitch, means that there is a reluctance to prop up industry as the costs could soon spiral. Given a lot of the companies worst affected are in the Midlands and North, expect Sunak and Johnson to come under pressure from red wall MPs in the coming days.