Philip Hammond fails to back Theresa May leading the Conservatives into the next election
Philip Hammond has repeatedly failed to support Theresa May leading the Conservatives into the next general election.
The Chancellor ducked several questions about the Prime Minister’s future during a visit to Scotland.
Instead, he would only say that she should remain leader during the Brexit negotiations.
It was reported at the weekend that Mr Hammond texted Boris Johnson in the early hours of the morning after the general election pledging his support for a leadership bid if Mrs May stood down.
The Prime Minister managed to cling onto power after striking a deal with the DUP, and has since said she is prepared to remain leader until the next election in 2022.
Asked during a visit to Dundee who the best person to lead the party until then, Mr Hammond told a journalist from The Herald: “I’m not going to get involved in a discussion about future Conservative party leadership politics. Theresa May has made it very clear that she has a job to do. I am completely behind her in doing that job.
“I think she’s making an excellent job of managing the Brexit negotiations. We’re entering a critical phase now and all of us need to focus our attention on delivering a Brexit that works for Britain.”
Pressed on whether Mrs May should be the leader in five years’ time, he said: “I’m not going to get into a discussion about future potential leadership discussions in the Conservative party.
“I think you’ll see next week at our party conference that the party is clear and unified behind Theresa May delivering us a Brexit that works for Britain, and that’s going to be our primary focus over the next couple of weeks.”
The Chancellor again refused to be drawn on Mrs May’s future when asked if she was his own choice to remain leader.
“I’m not going to talk about future Conservative leadership,” he said. “I want to talk about the job in hand, and Theresa May is clearly the best person to lead the Conservative party, to lead the Government, through this very complex process of Brexit, and that is what she is focused on.”
Mr Hammond also failed to deny he had texted Mr Johnson offering his support when it became apparent that the Conservatives had lost their Commons majority.
He said: “There was an awful lot of communication going on during the early hours of that morning - texting, telephone calling, between all sorts of colleagues. I don’t recognise some of the material that I’ve seen in the Sunday papers.
“What I do know is that the most important conversation I had on that night was with Theresa May when she told me she had decided to seek to form a government. She asked me to serve in it, and I committed to do so and to back her.”
Shadow Scottish Secretary Lesley Laird said: "This is an extraordinary move from the Chancellor and exposes the real divisions at the heart of the Tory party.
"Theresa May has lost the dressing room so badly she can't even get the dreaded vote of confidence.
"It's time for Theresa May to step aside and for the Tories to call a general election. The country needs to decide who is going to lead - the UK cannot trust a government that cannot trust itself."