The majority of Conservative MPs do not want to see Philip Hammond sacked from the Treasury, a senior Tory former minister has said, appearing to suggest that the home secretary, Amber Rudd, is among those appalled at the briefings against the chancellor.
After a week of intense pressure on Hammond from hardline Eurosceptics in his party, the former education secretary Nicky Morgan said she had been speaking to a “very senior” cabinet minister who criticised the behaviour of his opponents.
Morgan described her source as a “she”, prompting speculation she meant the home secretary. “Those who are saying that he should be sacked are incredibly self-indulgent. I should just say I have been contacted ... by a very senior cabinet minister who is appalled at what she is reading in the newspapers this morning,” she told ITV’s Peston on Sunday.
“It’s not on to have all of this. It is not helpful for anybody to have ministers being attacked, whether it is the chancellor or the foreign secretary when something as critical as Brexit negotiations are going on.”
Hammond has been under intense pressure after suggesting on Wednesday he would not commit Treasury funds to prepare for a “no deal” Brexit, angering Brexiters in the party. Nigel Lawson, a Eurosceptic and former chancellor, said the comments were “very close to sabotage” and the MP Nadine Dorries also called for him to quit this week.
The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, a Brexit supporter, said Hammond was focused on preparing the upcoming budget, but did suggest ministers needed to be “upbeat” about the future of the country post-Brexit.
Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show whether Hammond should be sacked, Grayling said: “In a month’s time the chancellor is going to deliver a very important budget for this country and I’m working with him and we are all behind him in delivering that.”
The chancellor is said to be preparing to loosen the purse strings at next month’s budget, with cabinet ministers asked to come up with bold proposals on areas including student loans and housing, according to the Sunday Times.
On Sunday, Democratic Unionists denied the party had asked May to “rein in” Hammond, saying claims in the Sunday Telegraph that its parliamentary team wants May to force the chancellor to change his line on Brexit “does not reflect the party’s position at this time”.
The DUP source added that it was in interests of the party and Northern Ireland “at all costs to keep Theresa May” in power, rather than pave the way for Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. The DUP’s 10 MPs prop up May’s minority Conservative government under its ”confidence and supply” arrangement with the Tories.
Hammond has been blamed in the past for urging spending caution, which may have diluted May’s ambitions in areas such as housing.
Conservative MPs are likely to be divided over pressures to ease restrictions on greenbelt land to allow house-building, though the government’s February white paper said green belt protection would not be weakened apart from under “exceptional circumstances”.
In her speech to Conservative conference this month, May announced an extra £2bn for affordable housing, including the building of an extra 12,500 homes for social rent each year in 2020 and 2021.
Charities and housing experts have warned the figure is unambitious, with 1.2 million households on council waiting lists in the UK. Councils and charities have pressed for local authorities to be given more power to allow local authorities to borrow to build new council houses.
The housing minister, Alok Sharma, said the government accepted there was more to do, but stopped short of committing to give councils more financial flexibility. “We’re going to see a lot more house building, but also house building within the social sector,” he told ITV’s Peston on Sunday.
“The prime minister is leading on this. She has said this is going to be the mission that she has in her government and we have a big meeting on Tuesday which she’ll be leading with the big developers, with housing associations, with local government, so that we can turbocharge our efforts to build more homes.”
On Tuesday, May will host summit with developers, local authorities and housing associations to challenge them on solutions to barriers to home building.
This article was written by Jessica Elgot and Henry McDonald, for theguardian.com on Sunday 15th October 2017 14.55 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010