Is Philip Hammond’s intervention today really a problem for Boris Johnson? The former Chancellor comment piece in the Times declares that he’s kept quiet for all of three weeks, but that ‘now it is time’ to speak out and warn the new Prime Minister that he risks betraying the British people if he goes for a no-deal Brexit.
There has been a sufficiently energetic response from Number 10 sources to suggest that they are rattled by Hammond. But those sources insist that everyone in Westminster had already priced in such a complaint, and that the public will see Hammond and his acolytes bickering over process and trying to stop Brexit, which will just make voters more enraged with the Remainers in parliament.
Attacking Hammond as the chancellor who ‘actively undermined the government’s negotiating position’ and claiming that his ‘real objective was to cancel the referendum result’ amplifies the story. Which suggests that for those around Johnson, this intervention is in fact rather useful. As I wrote yesterday, the campaign message of an autumn election will most likely be Boris the man of the people vs the Brexit blockers in parliament. The noisier Hammond and the Gaukeward squad are, the easier it will be to communicate this.
The Gaukeward squad are still setting themselves up as a proper faction, but they don’t have much time, either to achieve their aims in stopping a no-deal exit, or in preventing themselves from being cast as anti-democracy. Given how tight Number 10’s message control is at the moment, they’ve got their work cut out to be ready for the first few weeks of September, which will see some of the most important Brexit battles yet.