Theresa May tries to end cabinet infighting telling ministers to 'shape up'

The Prime Minister will tell the cabinet to focus on the national interest

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Tuesday 03 October 2017 23:46
Theresa May has brushed aside claims Boris Johnson undermined her
Theresa May has brushed aside claims Boris Johnson undermined her

Theresa May will try to draw a line under weeks of turmoil by telling squabbling cabinet ministers to stop worrying about their own “job security” and focus on the national interest.

Ms May will tell her party she will not “hide from a challenge” and demand that after a lengthy period of soul-searching following the election that ministers “shape up”.

In a series of interviews ahead of her speech Ms May specifically addressed the threat to her premiership from Boris Johnson, brushing aside claims he undermined her and reminding the country that he sits in “my cabinet”.

The Prime Minister had started the conference with her future hanging in the balance in the face of constant media interventions from Mr Johnson that appeared to challenge her authority.

But with other ministers rebuking the Foreign Secretary, a key moment passed on Tuesday when Mr Johnson gave full-throated support to the PM from the conference stage.

In her speech, Ms May will say: “Let us do our duty by Britain. Let us shape up and give the country the government it needs.”

The Prime Minister will go on: “Beyond this hall, beyond the gossip pages of the newspapers, and beyond the streets, corridors and meeting rooms of Westminster, life continues – the daily lives of ordinary working people go on. And they must be our focus today.

“Not worrying about our job security, but theirs. Not addressing our concerns, but the issues, the problems, the challenges, that concern them. Not focusing on our future, but on the future of their children and their grandchildren – doing everything we can to ensure their tomorrow will be better than our today.”

At the start of the conference Ms May was forced to apologise to a private meeting of party members for the seats lost at the election.

But the tone Ms May will set on Wednesday will be tougher and more forward-looking. She will say: “None of this will be easy. There will be obstacles and barriers along the way.

“But it has never been my style to hide from a challenge, to shrink from a task, to retreat in the face of difficulty, to give up and turn away.

“And it is when tested the most that we reach deep within ourselves and find that our capacity to rise to the challenge before us may well be limitless.”

In his much-anticipated speech on Tuesday Mr Johnson said “the whole country owes [Ms May] a debt for her steadfastness” and insisted she would deliver a good Brexit deal.

But the about-turn comes after he published a 4,000 word article and gave a wide-ranging interview at the start of the week in which he went well beyond his own brief and appeared to go further than Ms May’s approach to Brexit.

Asked in a BBC interview whether Mr Johnson’s interventions had undermined her, the Tory leader said: “It doesn't undermine what I am doing at all.”

When questioned as to whether he had leadership skills, she said: “Boris is in my Cabinet as the Foreign Secretary.”

Theresa May claims Jeremy Corbyn 'changed the political consensus'

There had been claims from allies of Mr Johnson that he had pushed the Prime Minister to reduce the proposed length of a Brexit transition period from five years to two years.

But Ms May said: “No, the Florence speech was the result of discussions around Cabinet and, yes, my judgement about what it was necessary to say at this stage in the negotiations.

“The whole Cabinet came together. They agreed that speech. They agreed the position the Government is taking.”

The renewed public unity at the top of the party will be tested quickly with the European Council set to deny the UK an opportunity to move Brexit negotiations on to a future trade deal.

Brexiteers, whose support Mr Johnson has been courting, have been pushing Ms May to walk away from talks if negotiations do not move onto trade by Christmas.

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