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UK govt downplays cabinet tensions over Brexit

Press Trust of India  |  London 

The government today sought to downplay deep divisions within the Cabinet over the form that Britain's exit from the European Union would take, saying it is just a "lively debate" rather than a rift.

Some media reports suggested that Chancellor Philip Hammond had angered some of his more pro-Brexit Cabinet colleagues with his concerns over plans to immediately restrict immigration from the EU, warning that this could harm the economy.

It came as leading Brexit-backer Boris Johnson was forced to defend himself over an unpublished article which showed him presenting arguments in favour of staying in the EU.

However, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt today sought to dismiss concerns as a "lively debate" within government circles rather than any deep divisions.

"If we weren't having lively debates in cabinet, you would be saying what's happened to Cabinet government, why aren't you going through incredibly thoroughly, all the different arguments to make sure we end up with the right decision," Hunt told BBC.

"The British people changed the history of our country on June 23 and the Cabinet is absolutely united that we must respect that decision. But we need to then go through very thoroughly and carefully, all the different options," he said.

At a Cabinet sub-committee meeting last week, Hammond is said to have suggested the government continue to consider other options on immigration control, even after home secretary Amber Rudd had brought forward plans for a visa scheme that would close the door to low-skilled migrants.

An unnamed cabinet source told 'The Daily Telegraph' that Hammond was "overly influenced by his Treasury officials who think it is a catastrophe that voted to leave the EU".

Another source told the paper: "He is arguing from a very Treasury point of view. He is arguing like an accountant seeing the risk of everything rather than the opportunity."

'The Times' newspaper claimed Hammond's intervention angered some more pro-Brexit ministers, and was seen as potential foot-dragging by the Chancellor.

According to the 'Guardian', differences between ministers are likely to surface most strongly on the Brexit Committee, whose 12 permanent members are split evenly between ministers who supported the leave and remain campaigns before the June 23 referendum.

Yesterday, an unpublished column by Johnson, now foreign secretary, created a stir as it argued for continued EU membership.

The senior Cabinet minister, however, made light of the article, saying it was a result of the fact that he was "wrestling" with his stand on Brexit.

British Prime Minister Theresa May had announced at the Conservative Party conference earlier this month that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the official trigger for Brexit, will be invoked by the end of March next year.

The debates and divisions over the exact nature of Brexit are expected to intensify in the lead up to the deadline.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, October 17 2016. 19:32 IST