The former Tory chancellor said Mrs May ‘didn’t know’ what kind of relationship she wanted the UK to have with the European Union when she moved into Number 10 in the wake of the referendum.
He also claimed it was ‘almost a coup’ when she set out her initial hardline vision in October 2016 for splitting from Brussels.
Mr Hammond said Mrs May ‘sometimes confused stubbornness with heroism’ as he criticised her for repeatedly trying to crash her Brexit deal through Parliament despite being told she did not have the votes.
Meanwhile, he likened slow Brexit progress under Mrs May to the battle for territory during the First World War as the then-PM was forced to give up hard won ground because of pressure from Eurosceptic Tory MPs in the European Research Group.
Philip Hammond has blasted Theresa May over Brexit, claiming the ex-PM had no idea what Brexit should look like when she became premier in July 2016
Mr Hammond, who now sits in the House of Lords as a Tory peer, claimed Mrs May ‘sometimes confused stubbornness with heroism’
Mr Hammond, who served as chancellor throughout Mrs May’s premiership, delivered his damning assessment in an interview with the UK in a Changing Europe think tank.
Asked whether he believed Mrs May had a clear vision for Brexit when she first won power, Mr Hammond replied: ‘No, she didn’t know. She didn’t know. We were at the “Brexit means Brexit” stage.’
Mr Hammond suggested Mrs May never believed in Brexit and that she was simply trying to unite the nation.
He said: ‘I don’t think at that stage Theresa had any ideological views about this at all. Theresa is essentially a pragmatic politician.
‘I think that she will have been – she was – very conscious of the fact that she had been nominally a Remainer, although extremely reluctant to put her head above the parapet.
‘That will be partly because, I expect, a lot of her core support in her own constituency would have been pro-Brexit. She was about to become Prime Minister of a country that had just voted to Leave, as well as leader of a party that had clearly, in some significant numbers, voted to Leave. So she wanted to lead the party.
‘Theresa has always been “country and party first, ideology very much second”. So, I think she saw her task as to unite – in very grand vision terms, in a way that looks a bit ambitious to put it mildly, with the benefit of hindsight – to unite the country behind a vision of the future that included leaving the European Union, protecting the economy, building a better Britain, etc, etc, etc.’
Mr Hammond pointed to Mrs May’s Conservative Party conference speech in October 2016 as a pivotal moment.
Mrs May ruled out a ‘Norway model’ and a ‘Switzerland model’ for Brexit as she made clear the UK would strive for a bespoke divorce agreement with the EU.
Mr Hammond said he was ‘completely stunned’ by the speech and claimed Mrs May had set out ‘Brexit in the hardest possible terms’ – terms which had not been signed off by the Cabinet.
He said: ‘I just remember focusing my entire energy on maintaining a rictus half-smile, and trying not to show any reaction at all, and then get out of the room without speaking to any journalists.
‘I was completely and utterly horrified by what I felt was almost a coup: a definition of Brexit without any proper Cabinet consultation at all.’
Mr Hammond said with that speech Mrs May had ‘dug a 20-foot-deep hole’ and ‘from that moment onwards, cupful by cupful of earth at a time, was trying to fill it in a bit so that she wasn’t in such a deep mess’.
Mr Hammond served as Mrs May’s chancellor for the duration of her three years as PM. They are pictured together in the House of Commons in May 2019
Mr Hammond said it was ‘almost a coup’ when Mrs May set out her Brexit plan in October 2016 without asking for Cabinet agreement first. The Cabinet is pictured at Chequers in February 2018
Mr Hammond said after the Tories lost their majority at the 2017 general election, it felt like the Government was ‘trying to run through treacle’ on Brexit as it faced up to the realities of dealing with a hung parliament.
He claimed Mrs May would ‘move a few paces in the direction of pragmatism’ but pressure from the ERG meant she would then ‘give up 90 per cent of the ground’.
He said: ‘It was like the First World War. It really, really was like the First World War.’
Mr Hammond, who now sits a Conservative peer in the House of Lords, also criticised Mrs May for pushing ahead with votes on her Brexit divorce deal even as she was being told by Tory whips that she would not be able to win them.
‘There’s something about Theresa that sees the – I don’t know, what is it? – the romantic notion of charging into the valley even though you know you’re going down to certain defeat,’ he said.
‘She sometimes confused stubbornness with heroism.’