Brexit negotiations begin in earnest this week. But the government’s strategy is lost in contradictory briefings and confusion. Now come lurid reports of a personal confrontation between David Davis, who is heading up the Brexit negotiations and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
And as if all this was not enough, leaks have emerged of a fractious confrontation at a Cabinet meeting between spending ministers and Chancellor Philip Hammond, the latter accused of patronising and sexist remarks.
On the key issue of whether the cap should be lifted on public sector pay there is open warfare. Since the election debacle, Cabinet ministers have been lobbying for the government to end the 1 per cent cap on increases in public sector pay to placate voters sick of austerity. But Hammond’s insistence on financial discipline despite a fresh onslaught for spending relaxation sparked even wider revolt.
Heated exchanges were reported between Hammond and Education Secretary Justine Greening over her demand for £1.2 billion of extra spending on schools. She is said to have won support from Karen Bradley, the Culture Secretary, James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary – who is demanding pay rises for nurses. Now it’s the Conservatives, it seems, who are rushing to the magic money tree.
With a profoundly weakened Prime Minister unable to rally even her senior Cabinet colleagues, it is little wonder that there is feverish speculation of a leadership contest before too long. Rival cabals are already lobbying for support.
Given the wider context of the Brexit negotiations, a slowing economy, business leaders warning of investment plans being put on ice and millions of households struggling with the fall in spending power due to higher inflation, the government is now highly vulnerable, with the party conference season looming and every likelihood of open disarray and revolt.
If the Conservatives are to have any serious claim to government, this toxic infighting has to stop.