Theresa May will this morning issue a stern warning to Cabinet members to keep details of their weekly discussions private, following a series of damaging leaks which have led to fresh claims of a Government rift over Brexit.
The “reminder” to ministers of their “responsibilities” comes during the second round of formal negotiations with Brussels where officials have promised substantial debate on citizens’ rights and the so-called divorce bill.
Arriving in the Belgian capital to meet with his EU counterparts yesterday, Brexit Secretary David Davis spoke of his determination to “get down to work” to ensure negotiations are a “success”.
However, his assurances were set against a backdrop of briefings against the Chancellor Philip Hammond – including accusations that he is attempting to bring down Brexit– and a stinging criticism by the former head of the Vote Leave campaign Dominic Cummings.
Several accounts of last week’s Cabinet meeting emerged over the weekend. with reports centring around comments by Mr Hammond who was quoted as having described public sector workers as “overpaid”. Senior party sources sought to further undermine the Chancellor by accusing him of working with the “establishment” to “frustrate Brexit”.
The leaks mark the latest in a series of briefings against Mr Hammond and other “soft” Brexiteers in the Cabinet amid concerns that the Government is preparing to water down its plans for leaving.
But Mrs May will attempt to put a halt to further covert attacks in today’s meeting as she “reminds” ministers that Cabinet “must be able to hold its discussions on Government policy in private”.
“[The Prime Minister] will be reminding them of their responsibilities and making the point that ministers across Government need to be focused on getting on with delivering for the British public,” her spokesman said.
“The Government is all working together to deliver Brexit, which delivers on the will of the British people.”
This week sees the second formal round of negotiations over Britain’s exit from the EU taking place in Brussels, with the rights of European citizens and the UK’s financial obligations among the key topics for debate.
Speaking ahead of his meeting with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Mr Davis said officials were “now getting into the substance of the matter”.
“As you’ve heard, it’s four categories; the issue of citizens rights, the issue of finance, the issue of separation issues and of course, separately, Northern Ireland,” he said.
“For us it is incredibly important that we now make good progress, that we negotiate through this and identify the differences so that we can deal with them, and identify the similarities so we can reinforce them. It’s time to get down to work and make this a successful negotiation.”
However, last week, the Brexit Secretary gave his strongest hint yet that Britain could end up paying into the EU budget beyond the March 2019 exit date – a highly unpopular proposal to many eurosceptics. In a written statement published on Thursday, he acknowledged that the UK “has obligations to the EU, and the EU obligations to the UK, that will survive the UK’s withdrawal”.
The former Leave campaign chief Dominic Cummings has since called Mr Davis’ negotiating abilities into question, yesterday taking to Twitter to describe him as “vain”, “lazy” and “thick as mince”.
He also claimed that the Government’s newly published “Repeal” Bill contains a clause that would allow ministers to cave in to EU demands at the last minute.