Hammond Shifts Brexit Tone as He Dodges Questions on May – Bloomberg

Hammond Shifts Brexit Tone as He Dodges Questions on May – Bloomberg

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Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond reiterated that the U.K. plans to leave the European Union’s customs union, and refused to be drawn into a debate on the future of Prime Minister Theresa May as Brexit talks begin amid a political crisis.

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British officials travel to Brussels Monday for the formal start of the EU departure negotiations, amid confusion over whether the government is going to change its priorities after failing to win voter endorsement in the June 8 election. At home, May is struggling to stay in office as her Conservative Party questions both her election strategy and her handling of a London tower block fire that has left scores dead.

Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

Asked on the BBC how long May would keep her job, Hammond swerved the question. “What the country needs now is a period of calm while we get on with the job in hand,” he said on the “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. “Theresa is leading the government.”

The chancellor, who on Friday said Brexit needed to be handled in a “pragmatic” way, said that Britain would still be leaving the EU’s customs union, but added that “transitional structures” would be needed to smooth that departure. He used similarly moderating language on questions of Britain’s austerity program.

“We’re not deaf,” he said when asked about voter frustration with spending cuts. “I understand that people are weary after years of hard work to rebuild the economy.” But he said he still wanted to eliminate the government’s current account deficit by the middle of the 2020s.

Hammond criticized May’s election strategy, which saw the Conservatives lose their majority in Parliament. “My role in the election campaign was not the one I would have liked it to be,” he said, arguing that the Conservatives should have talked more about their economic record.

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