Cabinet talks must stay private, PM tells Boris Johnson

Theresa May has warned ministers that Cabinet discussions should remain private as Boris Johnson mounted a fresh push for extra spending for the NHS.

The Foreign Secretary let it be known that he intended to use the weekly meeting of the Cabinet to press for an additional £5 billion for the NHS after Britain leaves the EU.

But as ministers gathered in No 10, he was pre-empted by the Prime Minister who told the meeting any "Brexit dividend" would be allocated according to the Government's priorities - including schools and housing as well as health.

Boris Johnson arrives at Downing Street for the Cabinet meeting (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Boris Johnson arrives at Downing Street for the Cabinet meeting (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In the hour-long discussion that followed, there appeared to be exasperation at Mr Johnson's latest intervention, with ministers backing Mrs May's view that their talks should stay confidential.

But despite frustration at the way Mr Johnson's intentions became public knowledge, it is understood there was some support around the Cabinet for his position.

The Foreign Secretary's fellow Vote Leave campaigners Michael Gove and Chris Grayling supported his call for the NHS to benefit from the "Brexit dividend", and Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt would also welcome extra funding.

Downing Street made clear that senior ministers had concerns about the privacy of Cabinet talks.

"The Prime Minister and a large number of ministers made the point that Cabinet discussions should remain private," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.

The spokesman said that while most members had contributed to the discussion, no minister had mentioned a "specific number in relation to NHS funding".

Earlier, Mr Johnson's intervention drew a withering rebuke from Chancellor Philip Hammond who made clear the NHS was not his department.

"Mr Johnson is the Foreign Secretary," he told reporters as he arrived for a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels.

"I gave the Health Secretary an extra £6 billion at the recent Budget and we will look at departmental allocations again at the spending review when that takes place."

There was an angry response also from some Tory MPs, with former minister Anna Soubry warning Mrs May he would bring her down unless she sacked him.

The row broke out amid signs of growing frustration among some backbenchers at the Government's performance prompting renewed speculation that the Foreign Secretary was "on manoeuvres".

Last week he again drew attention to his controversial claim during the EU referendum that leaving the bloc would release an additional £350 million a week to spend on the NHS, claiming the figure was actually an underestimate.

Ms Soubry, a prominent pro-EU campaigner, said the time had come for the Prime Minister to get rid of him.

He had shown "longstanding incompetence and disloyalty" and unless Mrs May acts now "Boris will bring her down", she said.

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Mrs May's former chief of staff Nick Timothy hit out at Mr Johnson.

"Breaching collective responsibility and leaking Cabinet discussions are bad enough but part of political life," he said.

"But pre-briefing your disagreement with Government policy ahead of Cabinet?"

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Justice Minister Phillip Lee said "now was not the time" for such a debate, adding: "I'm getting on with my own job - as should others."

Have been asked many times to comment on today's 'news' that a minister might ask for more money for a third minister's dept. I've got lots to say - but now is not the time to say it. I'm getting on with my own job - as should others! #nhs

-- Dr Phillip Lee MP (@DrPhillipLeeMP) January 23, 2018

Speculation that Mr Johnson was attempting to engineer a row in order to resign or be sacked over a matter of principle were dismissed as "utter nonsense" by his allies.

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