Hammond: Softly, softly is way to go with Brexit

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It’s full steam ahead for Brexit.

That was the clarion call sent out by Theresa May to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham last week.

But it will not be all plain sailing. The hard core of ‘Remainers’, who ludicrously wanted to see a re-run of the referendum, seem to have quietly disappeared from the scene, but other anti-Brexiteers may well do their utmost to impede the progress. What is more, there are cracks appearing in the Cabinet itself.

Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, prominent in the ‘soft Brexit’ lobby, is reportedly appalled by the “bull in a china shop” approach of the three Brexit Ministers, David Davis, Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, and Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary.

May will need all the authority at her command to steer her policy through what are bound to be acrimonious Cabinet meetings lying ahead.

Hammond is fearful that a too-aggressive approach by this trio of ministers towards foreign leaders, as well as Brussels grandees, may be damaging to the negotiations. Hammond advocates a softly-softly approach if Britain is to get what it wants, rather than table-thumping.

This is the biggest constitutional upheaval Britain has faced for generations. If it goes wrong, May might be bidding goodbye to Number 10.

- At long last, someone is getting to grips with Britain’s unmonitored overseas aid programme. Priti Patel, the lively new International Development Secretary, has made clear that she is not prepared to spend money in this way simply to meet David Cameron’s promise of 0.7 per cent of national income.

At present, the bill stands at a massive £12bn a year of taxpayers’ money, with no certainty that some large sums are reaching the right people or are being spent in the right way. What has been happening is that late in the fiscal year, some money has been handed out by this department to achieve the target set by Cameron. That is now likely to end with a source saying they will not be spending money simply for the sake of it. It was more than ludicrous to throw away money in this unchecked way. Every penny should be monitored from Whitehall to the mouths of the hungry and deprived.