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May endorses Hammond after reports of rift

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May endorsed Chancellor Philip Hammond on Wednesday after media reports of a deepening rift between their two teams ahead of a June 8 election.

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Earlier this month The Times newspaper reported that relations between those around the two most senior members of the British government had worsened after a series of disagreements over policy and presentation.

At an election campaign event on Wednesday, the pair were asked repeatedly about reports of tensions and whether Hammond would remain in his position if the ruling Conservatives win the election as expected.

After side-stepping two questions on her relationship with Hammond, May was asked if she was happy to endorse him. “Happy to do so, very happy to do so,” she said.

“We have worked together over the years, for many years, longer than we would care to identify I think. That is an age related comment, nothing else just in case you try and relate anything into that,” she added, without answering whether she planned to keep him as Chancellor.

Hammond also dismissed the reports as “tittle tattle”.

“We work very closely together, she has got an extremely strong team around her. I work very closely with her team,” he said. “We do work very well together as a team and all this media tittle tattle is just that, media tittle tattle.”.

When asked during an interview on BBC radio earlier on Wednesday if he wished to deny there had been angry phone calls, Hammond admitted he did occasionally swear.

But he later clarified his remark, saying he had meant it as general comment rather than that he had sworn at May’s team.

“What I candidly admitted this morning, and my family will confirm this, is that I do occasionally swear. I wasn’t referring to any particular conversations but I do occasionally swear,” he said.

Reporting by David Milliken, Estelle Shirbon and Kylie MacLellan