FRESH tensions emerged in prime minister Theresa May’s cabinet on Tuesday (23) after she rebuked Boris Johnson for making public his demands on government spending after Brexit.
The foreign secretary’s allies briefed several newspapers that he would use Tuesday’s weekly cabinet meeting to press for money saved from Britain’s withdrawal from the EU to be diverted to the state-run National Health Service (NHS).
The anonymous reports were viewed by some commentators as an attempt by the highly ambitious politician to raise his public profile – and went down badly with May and other ministers at the meeting.
“Broadly the prime minister and a large number of cabinet ministers made the point that cabinet discussions should take place in private,” May’s official spokesman said.
It is not the first time that Johnson has publicly challenged the prime minister. Last year, he set out his own vision for Brexit just days before her own big speech on the subject.
Tensions among ministers are likely to rise further in the coming months as negotiations with the EU reach a critical point, ahead of Britain’s departure in March 2019.
During the 2016 referendum, Brexit supporters such as Johnson claimed that £350 million a week paid into the EU budget could be used for the NHS after Brexit.
The claim was widely condemned for being misleading, but it was also highly effective. Media reports in recent days suggested Johnson was pressing for £100 million a week extra for the NHS.
May’s spokesman declined to confirm that he had made such an intervention, saying that several ministers spoke but nobody raised a specific figure. “The prime minister led the discussion on the fact that we will be able to spend this money (after Brexit) on domestic priorities, and a number of cabinet ministers made the same point,” he said.
Finance minister Philip Hammond, who campaigned to stay in the EU, delivered his own rebuke to Johnson, telling reporters in Brussels: “Mr Johnson is the foreign secretary.”
Britain has agreed to continue paying EU contributions until the end of the current budget cycle in 2020, almost two years after Brexit.