Boris Johnson has said suggestions he could resign from the cabinet over Brexit tensions are “lies”.
The foreign secretary’s spokesman said Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable should stop “making stuff up” after he claimed Mr Johnson might quit his role.
Sir Vince’s comment came amid reports of cabinet differences over what will happen to immigration after Brexit.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC he “didn’t recognise the picture” of Cabinet splits being reported.
The latest prompt for reports of splits came after International Trade Secretary Liam Fox insisted the cabinet had not agreed a deal on a three-year transitional period after the UK’s departure in March 2019 in which free movement would continue in all but name.
He told the Sunday Times the unregulated free movement of labour after Brexit would “not keep faith” with last year’s EU referendum result.
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On Friday, Chancellor Philip Hammond acknowledged that rules requiring the free movement of people within the EU – which the UK is signed up to as an EU member – would no longer apply after Brexit and all EU nationals coming to the UK after its exit would be expected to register.
However, he said it would take “some time” before a system of full migration controls was established and British firms must be able to “get on with their lives” without “massive disruption” – prompting speculation that the status quo would pretty much continue until 2022.
Sir Vince, whose party opposed Brexit and wants another referendum on the final Brexit settlement, has challenged Mr Johnson to say publicly whether he would back a settlement in which free movement continued until the date of the next election, scheduled for June 2022.
He suggested there was a state of “civil war” between “fundamentalists and pragmatists” in the cabinet and questioned which side of the table Mr Johnson – who was a prominent Leave supporter in the referendum but is regarded as being liberal on immigration – was sitting.
“There is no Cabinet consensus for moderation,” he said on Sunday. “And the rumours of Boris Johnson being about to resign fuel the uncertainty.”
Responding to the claims, a spokesman for Mr Johnson said: “Vince Cable is making his stuff up and maybe he should take more time to think up some policies rather than wasting his time on peddling lies.”
Asked about the comments on Monday on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hunt said there was unity in the Cabinet on delivering a Brexit that restored control over Britain’s laws, borders and money, which could involve an implementation period of no more than three years.
“If you look at where we are now compared to where we were a few months ago, we’ve sent some very positive messages to Brussels about what we want,” he said. “The other thing that we are completely united on as a Cabinet is that we want Brexit to make Britain more global, and not more insular.
“That means that it has to be a Brexit that works for business, it has to work for the NHS, the NHS needs to recruit doctors and nurses from all over Europe and that is going to continue after we leave the European Union.”