Philip Hammond has insisted “nobody is unsackable” just a day after Theresa May tried to laugh off questions of Cabinet indiscipline.
During a round of interviews ahead of his speech at the Conservative Party conference, the Chancellor was repeatedly asked about the behaviour of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - who has staged major interventions of Brexit and domestic policy in recent weeks.
Hammond was clear that Cabinet members owed the Prime Minister their loyalty, and tried to brush off Johnson’s behaviour by saying: “Boris is Boris”.
The Chancellor also denied texting Johnson on the morning of the election offering him support for any leadership bid.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Hammond said: “We all serve at the Prime Minister’s pleasure and we all owe the Prime Minister our allegiance and our loyalty within the Cabinet.”
He added: “I’ve always operated on the principle that it’s probably best to believe that nobody is unsackable - everybody’s got to pull their weight within the government.”
When the BBC’s Andrew Marr asked May outright “is he unsackable” on Sunday, the Prime Minister simply laughed and replied: “Look, let’s be clear about what we have here in this Government.
“We have a Government that is determined to build a country that works for everyone, and you know what, you talk about Boris’ job, you talk about my job ... I think the people watching this programme are interested in what we are going to do for their jobs and their futures and their children’s futures.”
The Sunday Times reported last month the Chancellor sent a message to Johnson as it became clear the Tories had lost their majority, backing him to take over if Theresa May quit as Prime Minister.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain this morning, Hammond said the claim was “not true”, and the Foreign Secretary had agreed with him privately the reports were false.
Hammond said: “I had lots of texts and telephone conversations with lots of senior colleagues that night.
“It was a period where there was a certain amount of confusion about what was happening and what was going to happen.
“I don’t think you’d be surprised that senior members of the party who were all in difference parts of the country because they were all in their constituencies were talking to each other and communicating with each other.
“But no, I did not send a text either with the words that were quoted in the Sunday Times or indeed implying anything like the message that was quoted in the Sunday Times.”
He added: “It’s not true and I’ve had a conversation with Boris Johnson about this and he confirms my recollection of that night. It’s not true.”
Questions over the future of May’s leadership are casting a shadow over the Tory party conference, being held in Manchester.
Senior Tories are frustrated that Johnson gave an interview on the eve of the four-day get-together setting out his own “red lines” for Brexit.
Tory MP Antoinette Sandbach told HuffPost UK that Johnson should think about quitting the cabinet.
“We live in an era of cabinet collective responsibly. If he doesn’t want to take that responsibility, he should do the honourable thing and resign,” she said.
Johnson said the Brexit implementation period must “not a second more” than two years.
But Damian Green, the first secretary of state and a close ally of May, said on Monday morning the two years timeframe could be “a few months either way”.
There have also been reports Johnson believes the Prime Minister will be gone from office within a year.
One senior Cabinet minister told HuffPost UK that Johnson was ruining his own leadership ambitions, just a little over a year after he failed to gather enough supporters to win the Tory crown himself in 2016.
The minister said fellow MPs were the vital factor in any future Tory leadership contest, and most were “horrified” at the prospect of changing leader so soon after the election.
“People who aspire to lead the Conservatives always forget who the audience is. It’s not the membership, it’s their colleagues in Parliament,” the minister said.
“There is absolutely no appetite for a leadership election now. If you said to backbenchers let’s have a leadership election in the Autumn, they would be horrified.”