Philip Hammond attacks Tory general election campaign

Philip Hammond

Chancellor Philip Hammond has criticised the way the Conservatives fought the general election campaign, saying there should have been more focus on the economy.

Mr Hammond said he was unhappy with the low-key role he was given and that the Tories should have put more effort into “dismantling” Labour’s plans.

He also said the government “heard a message” in the election that people were “weary” of spending cuts.

“We are not deaf,” he told the BBC.

The chancellor – who has been calling for Brexit talks to prioritise the economy – also said leaving the EU without a deal would be a “a very, very bad outcome”.

But a deal designed to “punish” the UK would be even worse, he said on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show.

Campaign criticism

Despite being one of the most senior members of Theresa May’s government, Mr Hammond did not play a leading role in the campaign before the general election, and it was reported he faced being replaced.

“It’s true that my role [in the campaign] was not the one I would have liked it to be,” he said.

He did not comment on his conversations with Mrs May after the election, in which the Conservatives lost their Commons majority.

Mr Hammond said the Tories should have focused more on their record of running Britain’s finances.

“The end result is that in my judgement we did not talk about the economy as much we should have done.”

Asked how long Mrs May had left in Number 10, Mr Hammond replied: “I think what the country needs now is a period of calm while we get on with the job at hand.”

‘More flexibility’

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There have been calls for a change in economic strategy since the election, which Labour fought on an anti-austerity platform.

The Tories are now relying on the Democratic Unionist Party, which is committed to lobbying for extra cash for public services in Northern Ireland, for support.

The chancellor said he had already “created more flexibility” by loosening George Osborne’s deficit-reduction target.

He said he understood people were tired of the “long slog” of spending cuts, but added: “We have to live within our means and more borrowing… is not the solution.”

“We have never said we won’t raise some taxes,” he said, but added that overall the government wanted to keep them low.

The government’s plan remained to clear the deficit by the middle of the next Parliament “in a way that’s sensitive to the needs of the economy”, he added.

Brexit questions

On the eve of the start of formal Brexit negotiations, Mr Hammond said the UK would definitely be leaving both the EU single market and the customs union, but must avoid “cliff edges”.

“It’s a statement of common sense that if we are going to radically change the way we work together, we need to get there via a slope, not a cliff edge.”

Media captionSir Keir Starmer: “I think that should be left on the table”

The government has previously said it will not stay in the EU-wide single market, as this would mean accepting the free movement of workers, and it wants a free trade deal to be agreed instead.

It also plans to replace its membership of the customs union, which enables tariff-free trading within the EU, with a new arrangement that lets it strike trade deals with the rest of the world.

Also appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, Labour’s Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer said Britain could not remain a full member of the single market after leaving the EU but argued for keeping customs union membership “on the table”.

He added: “I think the prime minister has got us into a complete mess. She’s got no mandate here and she’s got no authority abroad and the negotiation starts tomorrow.”

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