When the cat’s away ...

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What the Cabinet urgently needs is for schoolmarm Theresa May to hurry back from holiday and read the Riot Act to her ministers, ordering them to cease their childish conduct and get on with the job.

This has been a classic case of “When the cat’s away...” No sooner had the Prime Minister arrived in Italy for her walking holiday in the Alps, than the Cabinet descended into backbiting and public disagreements, which not only further weaken an already imperilled Government, but endanger whatever prospects there are of an orderly Brexit.

How the EU grandees in Brussels –hellbent on squeezing every last penny out of the UK on quitting – must be chortling up their sleeves as they listen to this disharmony.

The Prime Minister has already rebuked her Cabinet colleagues over leaks, warning there is no such thing as an unsackable minister, but even that threat seems to have had little effect. Now, she must wave the big stick at them and underline her determination to sack ministers who are seen to be rocking the boat.

The issue which is causing all, or at least much of the trouble among warring ministers, is that of the transitional period after Brexit is completed. And the name continually cropping up in all this is that of the Chancellor, Philip Hammond.

He has been publicly accused of treachery, by suggesting in recent days a new and softer Government policy towards Brexit, with a further transition period of three years.

The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, pictured, in particular has said that if there had been any discussion on this issue, he was unaware of it.

But Hammond has his supporters, prominent among whom is veteran Tory backbencher Sir Nicholas Soames. Soames has said Hammond should be listened to because he is the one preventing this whole sad affair from degenerating into a pub brawl. Whatever the outcome, it cannot make for a relaxing holiday for Theresa May as she studies what is going on back at Westminster during her absence.