Prime Minister Theresa May has been urged to discipline feuding Tory MPs as a civil war is alleged to have broken out in the party over Brexit.
Over the weekend, ministers targeted Chancellor Philip Hammond by leaking comments he is reported to have made in a recent cabinet meeting. One said he called public-sector workers “overpaid” while another claimed he said driving modern trains is so easy “even a woman can do it.”
On Monday, the Telegraph cited an anonymous cabinet colleague who said Hammond and the Treasury “want to frustrate Brexit” and that pro-Leave ministers are “pirates who have taken [me] prisoner.”
In another briefing, an unnamed ally of Hammond told the Sun that Michael Gove, the environment secretary, was the source of some of the leaks from last week’s cabinet meeting. This has been denied by “friends” of Gove.
In a bid to end the rows, the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs told May they would back any discipline she saw fit, including firing ministers who have routinely gone off message or publicly contradicted each other since the election, according to the Daily Mail.
“She has been informed that the membership are tired of self-indulgent ministers plotting or going AWOL on collective responsibility and that she should tell ministers this,” a senior party source told the newspaper.
On Sunday, Hammond vehemently denied making the comment about women being able to drive trains, saying: “I’ve got two daughters … I don’t think like that, I wouldn’t make a remark like that.”
He claimed he was being smeared by fellow ministers who disagreed with him because he is pushing for a softer Brexit.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the allegations have been “generated by people who are not happy with the agenda that I have … tried to advance ensuring that we achieve a Brexit that is focused on protecting our economy, protecting our jobs and making sure that we have continued rising standards in the future.”
However, Hammond insisted the cabinet is now “coming much closer together” on EU issues.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has also denied the cabinet is fighting. He said reports of rancor are greatly exaggerated.
“I read some of the stuff in the papers at the weekend and it bore no relation to the meetings I was in last week,” Grayling told the BBC.
“What I know is: we’re not a group of clones, we have discussions round the table and outside cabinet, we debate issues, we decide what’s right and we get on with it.
“All I can say is my experience of both being inside cabinet meetings and also with cabinet colleagues in the last few weeks is that I don’t see great divisions that are suggested in some of the Sunday newspapers. I have to say I think all of this is somewhat overblown.”
Grayling also denied Hammond is isolated on Brexit.
“It is in everyone’s interests that we have an economically sensible, economically beneficial Brexit deal. And everyone’s going to work for that – everyone in cabinet agrees that that is where we should be.”