Allies of Theresa May last night insisted that instead of sending Boris to the backbenches, she was determined to keep him in post
Theresa May has ruled out sacking Boris Johnson in an attempt to prevent the Foreign Secretary becoming a ‘martyr’ as the party tries to unite over Brexit.
Cabinet heavyweights yesterday lined up to rebuke Mr Johnson after speculation and infighting over his leadership ambitions continued to overshadow the party’s conference.
But allies of the Prime Minister last night insisted that instead of sending him to the backbenches, she was determined to keep him in post.
Figures in Downing Street believe his attention-grabbing interventions on Brexit and public sector pay are actually losing Mr Johnson support from fellow MPs.
Ahead of the Foreign Secretary’s party conference speech today, a senior ally of Mrs May told the Daily Mail that the Prime Minister ‘does not want to create a martyr’ by getting rid of him, arguing that when you ‘drill down’ there is no base of support among colleagues for what he is doing.
Another senior ally said that rather than removing him, ‘there are far better ways to cause someone misery’, adding: ‘There is more than one way to skin a cat.’
But Jacob Rees Mogg again praised him yesterday, describing his ‘good cheer’ on Brexit as ‘fantastic’. In other developments:
■ Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced a clampdown on online extremism with 15-year jail sentences for watching IS propaganda;
■ In an interview with the Daily Mail, Miss Rudd also attacked unprincipled tech giants who shamelessly told her there was ‘no business case’ for tackling web terror;
■ Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson urged the party to ‘man up’ and get over the election disappointment;
■ Environment Secretary Michael Gove revealed he is considering plans for a plastic bottle return scheme.
Mr Johnson’s decision to set out four ‘red lines’ on Brexit on the eve of the Tory party conference has infuriated many MPs and ministers.
It came a fortnight after he stunned Downing Street by publishing an unauthorised 4,000-word essay setting out his vision for Britain’s Brexit strategy.
Last night in an interview with the Daily Mail, Miss Rudd warned that Mr Johnson’s repeated interventions were undermining the Government’s efforts on Brexit.
Figures in Downing Street believe his attention-grabbing interventions on Brexit and public sector pay are actually losing Boris Johnson support from fellow MPs
Asked what she thought of the Foreign Secretary’s ‘red lines’ on Brexit, she said: ‘They are not for him to set, they are for the Prime Minister to set. We should stick to the traditional way of fighting it out at Cabinet… and then coming out with an agreed line.
‘Brexit is a challenge but we can make a success of it, but we need to be united.’
Asked whether she thought it was sustainable for a Cabinet minister to continue speaking out, she replied: ‘Well, every time he stops making interventions we all breathe a sigh of relief and think, “Now we can get on with the business of government without a distraction”.
‘Yes, it is sustainable, as long as we maintain a united government front.’
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon stressed ‘none of us are unsackable’. He suggested that Mr Johnson does not have enough support to become leader.
Chancellor Philip Hammond warned that signs of disunity in Government were harming the UK’s Brexit negotiations and repeated the mantra that ‘nobody is unsackable’.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon stressed ‘none of us are unsackable’. He suggested that Mr Johnson does not have enough support to become leader
First Secretary of State Damian Green dismissed Mr Johnson’s demand that the Brexit transition period should last ‘not a second more’ than two years, telling activists that the final date of withdrawal could go a few months in either direction.
In a reference to the row over Mr Johnson’s comments, Miss Davidson used a conference fringe event to tell her MSPs: ‘If any of you think of writing anything, without telling me, that is counter to current Scottish Conservative policy; you are out on your ear.’
She said the party ‘needs to get over its current nervous breakdown and man up a little bit’.
Mr Johnson won support from some colleagues. His old Vote Leave ally Mr Gove told LBC: ‘I think the Prime Minister’s leadership in the Florence speech reflected that upbeat and optimistic vision that Boris articulated.’