Theresa May has claimed she does not want a Cabinet of “yes men” as she defended not having sacked Boris Johnson.
The Conservative Party conference in Manchester has been completely overshadowed by the foreign secretary’s decision to set out a series of personal red lines on Brexit.
In a series of TV and radio interviews on Tuesday morning, the prime minister was repeatedly pressed on why Johnson still had his job and laughed off questions about whether he was “unsackable”.
“Weak leadership is wanting to have a team around you that are only yes men,” she told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme. “Strong leadership is actually having a team around you of different voices.”
May said while “of course the prime minister is in charge” she wanted to have a “range of voices” around her Cabinet table.
Johnson will deliver his speech to the Tory conference this afternoon. Asked if she had seen a copy of what he planned to say, May said: “His speech has been looked at - don’t worry.”
Johnson has demanded that any Brexit transition period be strictly limited to two years.
But Damian Green, the first secretary of state and a close ally of May, has said the two year timeframe is flexible and could extend “a few months either way”.
Tracked down in his hotel in Manchester by BBC Newsnight, the foreign secretary insisted he had not strayed from government policy with his interventions.
“Contrary to some of the stuff that I notice has been knocking around in the media, you have a cabinet that is totally united behind every comma, every full stop, every syllable of the prime minister’s excellent Florence speech,” he said.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has warned Johnson that “nobody is unsackable”. Scottish leader Ruth Davidson suggested she would sack the foreign secretary.
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. Another Tory MP said Johnson should “keep his bloody mouth shut”.
But MP James Clevery told a special conference edition of HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast of Johnson: “Underestimate him at your peril because he’s a very, very smart and very effective operator.”