The Conservatives are attempting to move their conference agenda on to the economy despite Boris Johnson continuing to challenge Theresa May’s authority on Brexit.
Chancellor Philip Hammond will be centre stage on day two of the party’s conference in Manchester, announcing a £400m boost for the Northern Powerhouse.
But the move, already dismissed as a “drop in the ocean” by Labour, risks being overshadowed by the Foreign Secretary’s relentless onslaught against the Prime Minister on Brexit.
Mrs May is coming under increasing pressure from Cabinet colleagues and backbench Conservative MPs to rein in or even sack Mr Johnson for what his critics claim amounts to treachery.
Video: May laughs off ‘unsackable’ Boris question
Yet a defiant Mr Johnson used a fringe meeting on Cyprus to step up the pressure on the PM, declaring: “Never mind Brexit, we are going to have a fantastic relationship, partly because of Brexit, of course.”
Another darling of the Tory grassroots, Jacob Rees-Mogg, was also accused of disloyalty after he was asked at a fringe meeting if Mrs May should lead the party into the next election and replied: “Erm, I think time will tell.”
:: May laughs off question over ‘unsackable’ Boris
Mr Hammond’s Northern Powerhouse cash boost includes £300m in investment for rail improvements and £100m for 33 road schemes.
Video: Johnson ramps up pressure on PM over Brexit
“Poor infrastructure can be a barrier to progress,” the Chancellor will say in his conference speech.
“That’s why, as the party of progress, we are investing record amounts to strengthen transport links.
“Today I am announcing a further £300m to future-proof the railway network in the North.
“This investment will go towards ensuring HS2 infrastructure can link up with future Northern Powerhouse and Midlands rail projects – helping the towns and cities of the North reach their full potential.”
Image: Mr McDonnell dismissed the funding as ‘a drop in the ocean’
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell hit back at the plans, saying more investment is needed for “our creaking railways, roads and infrastructure”.
He said: “It is almost an insult when you remember the tens of billions the Tories still plan to hand out to the super-rich and big business in tax giveaways over this Parliament.
“After a year in the job, Philip Hammond just wants to continue with the seven years of Tory economic failure that has seen the level of investment in our country fall behind many of our international competitors.
“He is particularly holding back the North, investing just one-fifth on transport per head as is spent in London.”
:: The Chancellor will be speaking to Sky News live from the Conservative conference at around 7.20am this morning.