98 days into the Theresa May government and Philip Hammond is the Cabinet Minister under the most scrutiny. The reports of tensions both between him and the Cabinet’s Brexit Ministers, and him and Number 10, mean that his words are parsed particularly carefully.
In front of the Treasury select committee today, Hammond refused to say whether or not he had seen the section of Theresa May’s conference speech that criticised the effects of the Bank of England’s monetary policy. This was effectively an admission that he had not. Given that one well-placed insider told me that May’s comments produced ‘serious trouble’ between her and Hammond this is not that surprising. But the fact he hadn’t seen this bit of the speech is an illustration of just how much more distant the May-Hammond relationship is to the Cameron-Osborne one. (More on this in the magazine tomorrow)
Hammond did not attempt to deny that there are differences within the Cabinet over Brexit policy. He said that it was not a secret that there were different views on how to approach the negotiation. But he argued that closing down any options beforehand would undermine May’s negotiating position. Logically, this implies that the UK’s Article 50 letter will say very little. Some of Hammond’s Cabinet colleagues, though, think it needs to set out what the UK is trying to achieve. Today’s appearance suggests that we haven’t heard the last of tensions between Hammond and some of his colleagues.