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Hammond: Government will listen to business concerns on Brexit

The Chancellor’s commitment to a deal which works for business came as Cabinet ministers prepared for Friday’s Brexit decision day.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said the Government will listen to business concerns about Brexit as Tory infighting continued ahead of the crunch Cabinet showdown at Chequers.

Mr Hammond told MPs the Government would strike a deal “which delivers” for business as former Tory leader William Hague issued a blunt warning to Cabinet Brexiteers not to push their demands for a clean break with the European Union too far.

Ahead of Friday’s Chequers away day, Lord Hague said Parliament could force a “watered-down” Brexit on the Government if ministers fail to agree a compromise plan on Britain’s future customs relationship with the EU.

We have to listen to what business is telling us and make sure that we deliver a Brexit which delivers the needs of business Philip Hammond

Business groups and the leaders of major manufacturers including Airbus and BMW have raised concerns about the prospect of a “no deal” Brexit or an agreement which does not preserve the benefits of current arrangements.

Mr Hammond, viewed as one of the Cabinet ministers favouring a soft Brexit, told the Commons: “I think the views of business, which is the great generator of employment and wealth and prosperity in our country, should always be taken very carefully into account.

“We have to listen to what business is telling us and make sure that we deliver a Brexit which delivers the needs of business.”

The comments will be seen as a rebuke to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who reportedly said “f*** business” when asked about Brexit fears.

Cabinet tensions are high ahead of the Chequers meeting to thrash out the Government’s position on the future relationship between the UK and EU, with the potential for Brexiteer ministers such as Mr Johnson to quit unless they get their way.

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The crunch meeting will take place at Chequers (Suzanne Plunkett/PA)

The upcoming summit was discussed at the regular weekly meeting of Cabinet at Downing Street on Tuesday, but Mrs May did not use the opportunity to set out the “third way” option for future customs arrangements which she is reportedly planning to present on Friday.

Following the Cabinet meeting, Mrs May flew to the Netherlands for talks with Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte, who called for more “clarity” on the UK’s plans.

“We urgently need clarity about every aspect of the future relationship between the EU and the UK,” said Mr Rutte after their lunch in the Hague.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Lord Hague said any minister who chose the Chequers summit as the moment to resign would show they were not fit to hold high office in the first place.

Amid reports of ministers preparing possible leadership challenges, he warned that the “vast sensible middle” of the Conservative Party “deeply dislike naked manoeuvring to become the next leader”.

He said: “Flouncing out, just when the going gets tough but when the EU Withdrawal Act has been successfully enacted, will look like evading responsibility for choices that were inevitable just when important progress has been made.”

Mr Johnson risked further inflaming tensions within the party when he publicly defended backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg after he claimed the Prime Minister faced the collapse of her Government if she failed to deliver on her Brexit promises.

In a fresh warning, Mr Rees-Mogg said MPs would not vote for a Brexit deal which failed to meet Mrs May’s stated red lines of leaving the single market, customs union and jurisdiction of the European courts.

In a podcast for the ConservativeHome website, he said there had been a “breakdown in collective responsibility” in the Cabinet, with pro-EU ministers openly promoting solutions “against the Prime Minister’s speeches, against the position formally of the Cabinet and against the manifesto”.

And he said: “This is really serious, it is constitutionally unsuitable, it is damaging to the Conservative Party and, most importantly, it weakens us in negotiations.

“I am trying to support the Prime Minister’s position and to remind people that any implementation deal has to get through Parliament, and if it is a bad deal, or it doesn’t meet the manifesto commitments, people won’t vote for it,” he said.

But Lord Hague said the Brexiteers did not have the numbers in Parliament to force through their vision on a “hard Brexit” and urged them to think through the consequences of creating a leadership crisis.

“Everyone threatening Theresa May with chaos, revolt, resignations and a leadership election if she doesn’t do as they wish needs to think carefully about what might be the consequences of their actions,” he said.

“A vote of no confidence in the leadership called on this issue would in all probability rally the sensible middle to the Prime Minister.”

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William Hague has issued a warning to Cabinet Brexiteers (Dan Kitwood/PA)

Brexit-backing former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson said the Government should be prepared for a “no deal” scenario relying on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.

“We should be offering the EU reciprocal free trade with zero tariffs, and if they won’t accept that then we go to World Trade (organisation) arrangements which tiny little countries like the United States, China, India struggle to trade under,” he said on BBC’s Daily Politics.

But former minister Ed Vaizey said: “I would respect the Brexiteers more if they said: ‘This is a fight for independence, we want to be independent for the European Union, it will cost our economy – in the short term, in the medium term it will cost our economy – but we think it is the right thing to do and that is what we are going to campaign for.’

“What I can’t stand is this fantasy that there will be no economic impact at all if we simply walk away from the European Union.”

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