Philip Hammond’s political tin ear has struck again. As I write in The Sun this morning, he has twice been slapped down in Cabinet this week. On Tuesday, he talked about ‘squealing’ about universal credit and was chastised by the Chief Whip for his language. Those sympathetic to Hammond point out that he was referring to Labour when talking about ‘squealing’. But it was still a poor choice of words when discussing changes to the benefits system.
Then at the ‘no deal’ Cabinet on Thursday, Hammond raised the prospect of delaying Brexit day.
After the legislative timetable for getting ready for ‘no deal’—which is tight—had been outlined, Hammond pointed out that the government has the power to put the Brexit date back. But doing this would be politically explosive.
No one else present supported Hammond’s point and Julian Smith shot it down, saying they would get all the legislation through in time. Theresa May then explicitly ruled out delaying Brexit day.
Allies of Hammond say that he was only talking about an administrative pause of a few weeks. They argue that he only made the point after Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, raised concerns about there not being enough parliamentary time to get everything in place. But any delay in exit day would cause a political crisis.