Philip Hammond mocks Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson over Tory leadership 'suicide pacts'
Philip Hammond has mocked three Tory Brexiteers for forming "suicide pacts" when they lost out on the Conservative leadership to Theresa May.
The Chancellor used a speech in Washington to take a swipe at fellow Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom, as well as former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, for their failed bids to seize the Tory top job in 2016.
Mr Johnson pulled out of the race after he lost the backing of Mr Gove - who then launched his own doomed bid - while Ms Leadsom withdrew after she appeared to suggest having children made her a better candidate than Mrs May.
In comments reported by The Telegraph, Mr Hammond pointed to the current crop of candidates in the US Democratic party, which is trying to find somebody to take on Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
He said: "Now you may have something vaguely similar going on in the US at the moment - astonishing as it may seem, we have even more candidates than you appear to have.
"If you remember last time this happened in 2016, Gove and Johnson knifed each other in an unintended suicide pact. Which left just Andrea Leadsom. Who? Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May in the running.
"And then Andrea Leadsom knifed herself in a private suicide pact and Theresa May inherited the Prime Ministership without anybody ever casting a single vote for anything."
The comments come amid fevered speculation about when Mrs May will stand down, with Mr Hammond hinting last week that the Prime Minister could stay on until October after being handed a possible six-month Brexit delay.
The Chancellor said the next Conservative leadership race would be able to draw on a "wider field" and joked: "In fact, as of now I think I may be the only member of the 320-strong Parliamentary Conservative Party who isn't either standing or potentially standing."
Mr Hammond also used his speech to laugh off Britain's ongoing Brexit drama, comparing it to President Trump's unfulfilled campaign promise to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
"It’s actually a whole year since I’ve been here. Due to the fact that we have a small parliamentary majority my wings have been clipped over the last 12 months,” he said.
"And a lot can happen in a year, but some things haven’t changed... We still haven’t left the European Union. You still haven’t built the wall."
A Treasury source told The Telegraph that the Chancellor’s "lighthearted" remarks had been made "in jest".
Mr Hammond's comments emerged as The Times reported that potential Tory leadership candidates in the Cabinet are set to back Mrs May to stay on as Prime Minister until the autumn if she fails to get her Brexit deal approved by MPs.
Possible successors are said to fear that a summer leadership battle could boost the changes of Brexiteers Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab seizing the reins with a pledge to renegotiate her deal in Brussels.
"Most leading contenders do not want an early challenge, even if that means waiting and supporting the prime minister until December," a source backing a Cabinet rival told The Times.