UK Politics: Brextremists tell Theresa May to sack Philip Hammond

Will Theresa May sack her old friend Philip Hammond?
Will Theresa May sack her old friend Philip Hammond?
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The chancellor has had a busy week, first calling the EU's negotiators "the enemy", then upsetting the Brextremists by saying leaving the EU with no deal would be disastrous. Max Liu discusses the latest UK political news...

"A second referendum on Brexit by 2020 is [3.5] and those odds are likely to shorten."

Is the UK going to leave the European Union without a trade deal? With negotiations at a deadlock, and unable to move on to the subject of trade, the clock is ticking for sorting out the terms of Brexit. This is why you can get [1.68] on the UK still being in the EU by the March 2019 deadline and why some people are already talking about the prospect of leaving without a deal.

What would no deal mean?

Leaving the EU with no deal would cause considerable problems for Britain's imports, for travel and for immigration. It would not mean, as some people misguidedly believe, that nothing would change and that both parties would stick with the status quo. The only source of comfort is that no deal would be in neither the UK or the EU's interests, so appears unlikely for that reason.

The chancellor Philip Hammond says that leaving the EU without a trade deal would be "very, very bad" for the UK. Hammond is already unpopular with the Brexiteers, who regard him as perhaps the most pro-Remain member of May's cabinet, and his latest comments have sparked apoplexy and more Tory in-fighting.

Calls for Hammond to be sacked

Former-chancellor Nigel Lawson says Hammond is sabotaging Brexit and has called for him to be sacked. Lord Lawson has long been an ardent Brexiteer. He argued before the 2016 that Brexit was about sovereignty and that leaving was the right thing to do even if it wasn't in Britain's economic interests. Easy for him to say, as a wealthy, elderly man who lives in France.

Lawson isn't the only one who has it in for Hammond this weekend. The Sunday papers are full of calls for the chancellor to be sacked, including from the DUP - the party on which May is dependent for a working majority in the House of Commons. They're urging May to "reign in" Hammond.

Hammond is [6.2] to be the next cabinet minister to leave, so bettors don't expect May to sack him. She refused to sack Boris Johnson, a man for whom she has little affection, so it would be surprising if she fired her old friend, and throat sweet provider, Hammond. That said, May needs to retain the DUP's support if she's to stay in government, so the chancellor's future hangs in the balance.

Hammond received some support from his opposite number, John McDonnell, who said on Sunday morning that no deal is "not an option." Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer agreed, saying that it's "blindingly obvious" that Britain and the EU will not reach a deal by the end of March 2019. Starmer says Britain must not then "go off the cliff-edge" and leave without a deal.

The Brextremists, however, believe May would strengthen her negotiating position by showing that she is prepared for Britain to leave without a deal.

Corbyn would vote Remain in second referendum

This week, May was asked how she would vote in a second referendum on Brexit. The Prime Minister, who voted Remain in June 2016, squirmed and said she doesn't answer hypothetical questions.

Jeremy Corbyn, however, was much clearer when asked the same question, although we should remember that, unlike May, he knew he was going to be asked. Corbyn said he would vote Remain if a second referendum were held now.

Corbyn must strike a balance on Brexit between the interests of Labour supporters who voted Leave and those who voted Remain, so it was refreshingly bold of him to come out in support of Remain. Perhaps he senses that support for Brexit is ebbing as the difficult reality of life outside the EU starts to become apparent. A second referendum on Brexit by 2020 is [3.5] and those odds are likely to shorten.

Labour, meanwhile, are three points ahead of the Tories in this week's YouGov poll and [1.96] favourites to win the next general election.

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