Boris Johnson has moved to distance himself from reports claiming he would resist any attempt by Theresa May to demote him in a Cabinet reshuffle.
The Foreign Secretary said “friends and allies” quoted in media reports were not speaking for him and did not represent his views. In a WhatsApp message to Conservative MPs, he suggested they were “some sinister band of imposters”, according to Sky News.
It followed reports in the The Daily Telegraph and The Sun claiming he would refuse to go if Mrs May tried to move him to a lesser post. The Telegraph quoted one backer of Mr Johnson as saying that there was a “stench of death” emanating from Downing Street.
In his message, Mr Johnson said: “I am frankly fed up to the back teeth with all this. “I do not know who these people are. I do not know if they are really my friends and allies or if they represent some sinister band of imposters. “I heartily disagree with the sense, tone and spirit of what they are quoted as saying.
“Whoever they are they do not speak for me.”
Following the turmoil of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mrs May has faced repeated questions as to whether Mr Johnson was “unsackable” due to her weakened position. Asked what she might do with him, Mrs May told the Sunday Times: “It has never been my style to hide from a challenge and I’m not going to start now.”
Many Tory MPs are understood to be furious about what they regard as Mr Johnson’s disloyalty, setting out his own “red lines” on the Brexit negotiations in defiance of Government policy, and want him removed. Over the weekend, however, pro-Brexit MPs hit back, urging Mrs May to get rid of Chancellor Philip Hammond, who has argued for a “softer”, pro-business Brexit that would protect jobs and investment.
An unnamed Cabinet minister told the Telegraph that Mr Hammond had “completely failed”, was “miserable” and was “making Brexit hard”. Senior backbencher Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the steering committee of the European Research Group of MPs, used a Guardian column to attack Mr Hammond’s department – although not the Chancellor himself.
“The Treasury seems unable to hear any voices except those that reinforce their preconceptions. It seems blind to the facts, preoccupied with preserving ‘access’ to the EU market seemingly at any cost,” he said.
Fellow Tory MP Nadine Dorries was more direct, telling ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “If I were Prime Minister the person I would be demoting or sacking would be Philip Hammond. I think she very much wanted to do that before the election was called.
“I don’t think he has been totally on board, I think he has been deliberately trying to make the Brexit negotiations difficult, stall them, obfuscate the issues. I just don’t think he has been 100% on board.”