Theresa May has refused to accept she should sack Boris Johnson after the Foreign Secretary publicly undermined her on Brexit for a second time.
During an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, the Prime Minister laughed when she was asked if Johnson was “unsackable” and insisted her cabinet was “united in its mission”.
It comes after Johnson gave an interview to The Sun in which he set out four red lines lines on the Brexit negotiations, including that the transition period should not last a “second longer” than two years.
That interview was after he wrote a 4,000-word piece in the Telegraph two weeks ago ahead of the Florence speech - a moment which was designed to strengthen May’s position - setting out how he would handle the negotiations, a move which has to mounting speculation he will challenge May in the coming months.
Reports have also appeared in the Sunday Times, citing Johnson allies who say he believes the PM will be gone “in a year” and he is planning a bid to replace her.
But May doggedly insisted that “Boris is absolutely behind the Florence speech” on Brexit that she delivered in the Italian city last week.
She told Marr: “What I have is a cabinet that are united in the mission of this Government, Andrew, and that’s what you will see this week, united in a mission to build a country that works for everyone and agreed on the approach we take in Florence.”
Marr pressed May on cabinet discipline, adding: “If it is a nest of singing birds, it is a nest with at least one cuckoo and several vultures sitting in it as well.
“This is a cabinet which is yet again not agreeing on fundamental questions about Brexit.
“We have seen Boris Johnson publicly demanding more red lines.
“Saying publicly that the Prime Minister must now do this, this and this and, by the way on public sector pay, she must do this.
“How can you tolerate somebody like that in your cabinet?”
May answered: “Boris is absolutely behind the Florence speech and the line that we have taken.
“What you have seen Boris saying is the importance of the approach that we have taken in the Florence speech that has moved the discussion on.
“It has created a momentum in the European negotiations.”
When pressed and asked outright “is he unsackable”, May 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.”
When asked at a HuffPost UK fringe whether Johnson should rein in his criticism, Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke said: “It is for Boris to determine how much he wants to say.
“He is a big figure. He is Foreign Secretary.
When pressed on whether he thought Johnson was unsackable, he added: “It’s not for me to determine these things. We all serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister.”
He went on to say May could stay as PM, adding: “If she can deliver on her domestic agenda, if she can deliver the Brexit that she is seeking to deliver, she will have really excellent record.
“And she will be able to go to the country and say these are the challenges we faced at the country and I have delivered on it.
“In those circumstances I think she would be a very formidable candidate in a general election.”
Tory grandee Lord Heseltine said Johnson was using his position as Foreign Secretary to undermine the Prime Minister.
He told the BBC Sunday Politics Show: “Boris is using his position within the cabinet in order to cause the difficulties that he is.”
He added: “In any normal situation, he would be sacked. Probably, that is the right thing to do now but as your commentary has consistently revealed, the Prime Minister’s weakness is such that she is in between the devil and the deep blue sea.
“If she keeps him inside, he will continue to disrupt and if she sacks him, he will disrupt.”
Speaking on BBC 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics show, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, meanwhile, said the whole of the cabinet were “backing the PM” and that he personally had confidence in May and would support her if she wished to stay.