11 Oct 2017

Should we expect a “bad-tempered Brexit”?

Philip Hammond has introduced a new term to the Brexit lexicon: “bad-tempered” Brexit. He defined it as a Brexit following collapsed talks and taking place in a “non-cooperative environment”.

Despite what the government clearly thinks is the real prospect of such a Brexit, the Chancellor hit back at “some” who are “urging me to spend money to show we mean business” about our readiness to consider “no deal”.

At Tuesday’s Cabinet, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson said that government needed more flexibility over spending where money was needed to safeguard issues like border arrangements. Mr Hammond is suspicious of ardent Brexiteers who would quite like a cliff-edge Brexit and aren’t, to his mind, sufficiently frightened of the prospect.

At the Cabinet, Philip Hammond responded to the Vote Leave duo’s arguments saying, as he did to the Treasury Select Committee today, that he would like to take a “just-in-time” approach to contingency spending. Theresa May then said that it is important that the EU realises that we want to cut a deal and that we don’t send out the wrong message.

Today, the Chancellor poured a bit of petrol on the fire when in front of the Treasury Select Committee, talking about the cloud of uncertainty that Brexit currently hangs over business (though he did blame the EU27 for that and call for the speeding up of talks). He suggested there would be a lag (for which read tax receipt black hole) between parting with the benefits of the Single Market and accruing the riches of Liam Fox’s trade deals.

He talked about the idea of planes not being able to fly the day after a “no deal” Brexit, only to say it wasn’t realistic to believe that it would happen.

He generally irritated the hell out of some Brexiteers and coming on top of a Times article that appeared to cross the road for a fight, he may have burnt a little political capital. Although he had announced the new £25 billion of spending on contingencies (sotto voce at the beginning of his session), the PM, questioned by Iain Duncan Smith, threw the spotlight on that money a little more in her PMQ’s appearance. It sounded to like No 10 was maybe a bit irritated to.

We had a weekend of “Get Boris” before Tory Conference, a flurry of “Get Theresa” just afterwards. You can already hear a bit of “Get Phil” around Westminster. The forces muttering these threats don’t have the ammunition to follow through on their threat and the PM probably doesn’t have the capital to conduct a major reshuffle. We are at a frosty stalemate. Rather like the Brexit talks themselves.



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