The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has denied that the cabinet is fighting over Brexit policy as the government faced a third consecutive day of damaging anonymous briefings against ministers, particularly Philip Hammond.
The chancellor was the target of leaks from other ministers on both days of the weekend about his supposed comments in cabinet, one saying he called public-sector workers “overpaid”, the other claiming he said driving modern trains was so easy “even a woman can do it”.
On Monday, the Telegraph cited an anonymous cabinet colleague as saying Hammond and the Treasury “want to frustrate Brexit” and that the chancellor viewed Brexiters as “pirates”.
In another briefing, an unnamed ally of Hammond told the Sun that the environment secretary, Michael Gove, was the source of some of the leaks from last week’s cabinet meeting, denied by “friends” of Gove.
But Grayling said he did not recognise the reports about the cabinet meeting, during which Hammond was reportedly chastised by Theresa May for his comment about driving trains.
“I read some of the stuff in the papers at the weekend and it bore no relation to the meetings I was in last week,” Grayling told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Speaking on Sunday, Hammond vehemently denied making the comment about women being able to drive trains, and called for people to stop leaking discussions from cabinet.
Grayling endorsed this: “The chancellor is absolutely right to say no one should be discussing, on or off the record, what takes place in cabinet meetings. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that at all.
“But the coverage I read at the weekend about the tense rows in the cabinet simply didn’t happen – it wasn’t like that.”
Grayling said the reports of rancour seemed vastly exaggerated.“All I can say is my experience of both being inside cabinet meetings and also with cabinet colleagues in the last few weeks is that I don’t see these great divisions that are suggested in some of the Sunday newspapers,” he said. “I have to say I think all of this is somewhat overblown.”
However, this was not to say there was never any disagreement among ministers, Grayling added.
“What I know is: we’re not a group of clones, we have discussions round the cabinet table and outside cabinet, we debate issues, we decide what’s right and we get on with it,” he said.
“I’m very clear that the cabinet and the party are united behind Theresa May, united in determination to get the right deal for the country in Brexit, in the Brexit negotiations, and to make sure we continue the economic progress we’ve made.”
On Sunday, Hammond told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show that the briefings “generated by people who are not happy with the agenda that I have … tried to advance ensuring that we achieve a Brexit that is focused on protecting our economy, protecting our jobs and making sure that we can have continued rising standards in the future.”
But, Hammond insisted, the cabinet was now “coming much closer together” on EU issues. He was backed by the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, who played down the idea of divisions between him and Hammond over the length of any post-Brexit transitional deal with the EU.
Grayling also denied that Hammond was isolated on Brexit, saying: “We all want a Brexit process to lead to a situation where we have good, constructive economic and trade relations with out European neighbours, not as part of the European Union, but as their biggest customer.
“In the everyone’s interests that we have an economically sensible, economically beneficial Brexit deal. And everyone’s going to work for that – everyone in cabinet agrees that that is where we should be.”