An ally and former colleague of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized on Monday after he claimed former finance minister Philip Hammond used an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory to explain the premier’s enthusiasm for a no-deal Brexit.
Hammond, who was expelled from the Conservative Party’s ranks over the Brexit law, on Saturday wrote in the Times newspaper that Johnson has the backing of speculators who stood to financially gain from a no-deal Brexit.
“Johnson is backed by speculators who have bet billions on a hard Brexit — and there is only one option that works for them: a crash-out no-deal that sends the currency tumbling and inflation soaring,” Hammond wrote, without naming any of the donors.
Hammond said he was repeating a point previously made by Johnson’s sister Rachel, a journalist and former candidate for the Change UK party in the European parliamentary elections.
Journalist Toby Young, a former colleague of Johnson, tweeted that Hammond’s article used a “disgusting anti-Semitic conspiracy theory: Boris is being manipulated by a secret cabal of city financiers who stand to profit from economic ruin. Have you joined @UKLabour?” he said, referring to the opposition party mired in a series of scandals involving accusations of anti-Semitism.
Hammond responded to Young, tweeting: “This is self-evidently absurd. But it is also defamatory. I will be taking legal advice tomorrow morning. I shall make no further comment.”
The journalist then replied: “Apologies Philip. The suggestion that ‘speculators’ are controlling the govt could be construed as an anti-Semitic trope if ‘speculators’ is being used as a euphemism for Jewish financiers, as it sometimes is. But you evidently didn’t mean that and I’ve deleted the tweet.”
Hammond then finished the thread, by saying: “Apology accepted, though I did not use the word “financiers.” Always happy to discuss our differences – so long as we keep it civilized.”
In light of Hammond’s claim, John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, has written to Britain’s most senior civil servant, and asked him to investigate any possible conflict of interest in the prime minister’s acceptance of financial support from hedge funds that could benefit in the event of an economic crisis, the Guardian reported Saturday.
Johnson took power in July with a vow that Britain would leave the EU on October 31 “come what may.” He promised to break a stalemate that saw the Brexit agreement struck between the EU and Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament, prompting May to resign.
Many lawmakers believe a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and socially destabilizing.
On Monday, Young made light of an allegation that Johnson grabbed the thigh of a journalist at conservative news magazine The Spectator while he was its editor two decades ago. The prime minister’s office has denied the claim by the Sunday Times columnist Charlotte Edwardes.
“Back then at The Spectator, in those raucous days, people complained if Boris didn’t put his hand on their knee. Times really have changed,” Young told the audience at a fringe event at the Conservative party conference on Monday, the Mirror reported.
Young, who was a columnist at The Spectator and wrote a play about Johnson’s sex life while the prime minister was editor of the magazine, was roundly mocked for a profile of Johnson he wrote earlier this year for the Quillette online magazine.
“With his imposing physical build, his thick neck and his broad, Germanic forehead, there was also something of Nietzsche’s Übermensch about him. You could imagine him in lederhosen, wandering through the Black Forest with an axe over his shoulder, looking for ogres to kill,” Young wrote of his contemporary at Oxford University when they first met in 1983.
AP contributed to this report.