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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Boris Johnson rebuffed in cabinet for NHS claims

The foreign secretary was attacked by colleagues for breaching cabinet confidentiality

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson walks out of Downing Street after a combative cabinet meeting. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson walks out of Downing Street after a combative cabinet meeting. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain’s Conservative party was engulfed in a new round of infighting on Tuesday after the foreign secretary Boris Johnson was publicly rebuked by the prime minister for briefing media about what he planned to say in a cabinet meeting.

Mr Johnson’s allies had briefed The Times newspaper on Monday about how he would demand an extra £5 billion (Dh25.7bn) a year to be spent on the beleaguered National Health Service (NHS) at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.

The newspaper ran the story as its front page lead story, increasing the pressure on Theresa May to release more funds. Mr Johnson had hoped that fellow Brexiteers in the cabinet would rally behind his demands.

However, in a well-planned ambush directed by Number 10, a series of ministers lined up to criticise Mr Johnson for breaching cabinet confidentiality and for betraying the trust of his colleagues around the table.

Amber Rudd, the home secretary who is loyal to Mrs May and who has been a long-term critic of Mr Johnson, was the most explicit in her condemnation. She stressed the need for trust between cabinet colleagues and reportedly said “I’m talking to you, foreign secretary”.

According to the prime minister’s spokesman, “the prime minister and a large number of cabinet ministers made the point that cabinet discussions should take place in private”, comments that can only be seen as a very public rebuke for the foreign secretary.

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, also criticised Mr Johnson, saying that Mr Johnson “is the foreign secretary” and noting that he had already budgeted for funds to go to the NHS. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt also publicly repudiated Mr Johnson.

The foreign secretary campaigned during the Brexit referendum on the promise that leaving the EU would lead to £350 million a week more for the NHS. He has been heavily criticised for this since because the arithmetic behind the claim was suspect at best and could have falsely induced people to vote to leave Europe.

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