David Lidington defends Philip Hammond after Boris Johnson attack on 'heart of Remain’ Treasury
David Lidington has pushed back at Boris Johnson’s accusation that the Treasury has acted as the “heart of Remain” by failing to seize the opportunities of leaving the EU.
The Foreign Secretary was secretly recorded speaking at a private dinner last week, where he also suggested that Donald Trump would do a better job of negotiating Brexit than Theresa May.
Mr Johnson said dealing with Philip Hammond’s department was part of an "inner struggle" as they were "sacrificing all the medium and long-term gains amid fear of short-term disruption" on the Irish border.
But the Cabinet Office Minister said the Chancellor, who campaigned for Remain and has been openly criticised by prominent Brexiteers, was "working extremely hard" to deliver Britain’s exit from the bloc.
“I worked with Philip for quite a few years in Government now, he’s somebody who has accepted the verdict of the British people in the referendum,” Mr Lidington told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“He is working extremely hard to deliver on that and to deliver on it in a way that looks after jobs and prosperity in this country and that’s a commitment the entire Government is behind.”
Mr Lidington, who is in effect deputy prime minister, also defended Mrs May’s handling of Brexit negotiations ahead of this month’s crunch summit with EU leaders, after Mr Johnson’s claim that the US President would do a better job.
“The British public have got a British prime minister and if you look at Theresa May’s record, in December last year, March this year, everybody was saying in the media: 'it’s all going to end in disaster’, [but] she got good deals at both of those European summits and I’m very confident she’ll do it again," he said.
Elsewhere, the Cabinet heavyweight confirmed that the Government’s Brexit white paper would be released in the first half of July, with ministers meeting to thrash out what would be a “detailed and very wide ranging” document.
And he confirmed that the paper would finally set out the Cabinet’s preferred customs arrangement to prevent a hard border in Ireland, following months of infighting over the two solutions on the table.
But Mr Lidington risked the anger of Brexiteers as he stopped short of guaranteeing that the UK would have left the customs orbit of the European Union altogether in time for the next general election.
The document published by Number 10 after the showdown with Mr Davis said only that the Government "expects" to be untangled from the EU’s customs system by the end of 2021.
Mr Lidington said ministers were working to get Britain out of the EU “as soon as we possibly can” and added: "We will have left the EU at the end of March 2019… Certainly, the PM’s intention, my hope, everybody is working towards getting this sorted as soon as we possibly can.
“We are expecting to get the withdrawal agreement sorted this autumn and to have agreed a very ambitious new economic and security partnership with the EU that’s in their interests as much as ours to put in place as rapidly as possible."