Philip Hammond has accused MPs allegedly trying to oust the Prime Minister of being “self-indulgent”, amid reports that his Cabinet colleagues are plotting a “coup” to get rid of her.
The Chancellor said replacing Theresa May would not “solve the problem”, despite heavy criticism of her handling of the Brexit process and calls from members of her party to stand aside.
“To be talking about changing the players on the board frankly is self-indulgent at this time,” Mr Hammond told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday.
It came as:
– Mr Lidington said he has no desire to take over from Mrs May, telling reporters that working closely with the PM “cures you completely of any lingering shred of ambition to want to do that task”.
– Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay warned that the risk of a general election would increase if MPs took control of parliamentary proceedings and brought about a “constitutional collision”.
– Conservative former leader Iain Duncan Smith lashed out at Cabinet ministers briefing against the PM in the papers, saying they should apologise and “shut up”.
Mr Hammond denied reports that he wanted Mrs May’s de facto deputy David Lidington to be installed as a caretaker prime minister, but refused to be drawn on whether his colleagues had approached him asking him to make an intervention.
However, he acknowledged that “people are very frustrated and people are desperate to find a way forward in the just over two weeks that we’ve got to resolved this issue”.
Mr Hammond added: “This is not about the Prime Minister or any other individual, this is about the future of our country.
“Changing Prime Minister wouldn’t help us, changing the party in Government wouldn’t help us: we’ve got to address the question of what type of Brexit is acceptable to Parliament, what type of way forward Parliament can agree on so that we can avoid what would be an economic catastrophe of a no-deal exit and also what would be a very big challenge to confidence in our political system if we didn’t exit at all.”
Mrs May’s former policy adviser MP George Freeman said it was “all over for the PM”, tweeting: “She’s done her best. But across the country you can see the anger.
“Everyone feels betrayed. Government’s gridlocked. Trust in democracy collapsing. This can’t go on. We need a new PM who can reach out (and) build some sort of coalition for a PlanB.”
Pro-EU former education secretary Nicky Morgan told the Sunday Telegraph that Cabinet ministers should tell Mrs May “it’s time to go”, while Brexiteer Steve Baker said potential leadership contenders in the Government should “act now”.
Tory backbencher Anne-Marie Trevelyan wrote in the same paper: “We now need a leader who believes in our country and wants to take her on the next stage of her journey.”
Conservative peer Lord Gadhia, a former member of David Cameron’s inner circle, said the upcoming days in Parliament may be “very dramatic” and could see the end of Mrs May’s time as premier.
The Sunday Times reported 11 Cabinet ministers had told the paper they wanted Mrs May to make way for someone else and that Mr Lidington was in line to take over the helm.
But the Mail on Sunday reported ministers were plotting to install Environment Secretary Michael Gove as a caretaker leader.
The Chancellor said Parliament would be given the chance to hold indicative votes on alternatives to Mrs May’s Brexit deal this week.
“One way or another Parliament is going to have the opportunity this week to decide what it is in favour of, and I hope that it will take that opportunity – if it can’t get behind the Prime Minister’s deal – to say clearly and unambiguously what it can get behind,” he said.
But Mr Hammond said a decision had not yet been made on whether Tories would be given a free vote on the matter.
After hundreds of thousands of people descended on Parliament on Saturday demanding a so-called People’s Vote, he said a second referendum was a “perfectly coherent position” which “deserves to be considered along with the other proposals”.