Chancellor Philip Hammond has lashed out at Cabinet rivals who briefed against him, accusing them of trying to undermine his efforts to secure a “softer” Brexit deal.
As tensions at the top of the Government spilled out into the open, Mr Hammond warned fellow ministers to focus on “the job in hand” rather than leak details of confidential discussions.
His outburst followed a report in The Sunday Times that he had told the weekly meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday that public sector workers were “overpaid” when their pensions were taken into account.
The paper said it had five sources for the story, the latest in a series of hostile briefings against the Chancellor, which threatened to fuel growing public anger over the Government’s continuing 1% public sector pay cap.
The row came amid reports of senior ministers such as Boris Johnson and David Davis jockeying for position in anticipation of a Tory leadership contest in the wake of last month’s general election which left Theresa May gravely weakened.
A clearly angry Mr Hammond linked the briefings against him to his attempts to prioritise jobs and the economy in the Brexit negotiations, to the obvious irritation of hardline Brexiteers like Mr Johnson, the Foreign Secretary.
“I think on many fronts it would be helpful if my colleagues, all of us, focused on the job in hand,” the Chancellor told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“If you want my opinion, some of the noise is generated by people who are not happy with the agenda which I, over the last few weeks, have tried to advance of ensuring that we achieve a Brexit which is focused on protecting our economy, protecting our jobs, and making sure that we have continued rising living standards in the future.”
He was backed by First Secretary Damian Green, effectively Mrs May’s deputy, who warned against any attempt to mount a leadership challenge.
“There are a lot of very serious things going on the world and now is absolutely not the time for this type of activity,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics.
“Talk of leadership challenges is completely overblown and completely the wrong thing for the country. The last thing anyone wants is for the Conservative Party to turn in on itself.”
Mr Hammond refused to be drawn on whether he had said public sector workers were overpaid, but acknowledged he had made the point that they enjoyed a pension “premium” over their private sector counterparts.
“When you take into account the very generous contributions public sector employers have to pay in for their workers’ pensions, their very generous pensions, they are still about 10% ahead,” he said.
His comments drew a furious response from public sector unions who accused him of being “completely out of touch” with the concerns of workers.