Conservative conference: Theresa May claims cabinet is united despite ministers refusing to get behind her

The Prime Minister could not say whether Boris Johnson is 'unsackable' in awkward interview with Andrew Marr

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Sunday 01 October 2017 13:33 BST
Theresa May asked if Boris Johnson is unsackable

Theresa May has insisted in an uncomfortable interview that her cabinet is “united”, despite Boris Johnson publicly diverging from her Brexit plans and other cabinet minsters refusing to endorse her leadership going into the next election.

Ms May ignored questions over her authority, how she could tolerate Boris Johnson’s behaviour and whether he is “unsackable” in an awkward half hour appearance, marking the start of Conservative conference.

The Prime Minister attempted to regain the initiative with an attack on Labour’s economic policy, only for interviewer Andrew Marr to point out the huge drops in the value of the pound during her tenure.

Ms May also missed another opportunity to show sympathy for those suffering due to the rollout of the Universal Credit, saying only that she recognised “there have been problems” when asked about a woman who had just 4p left because of delays in her payments.

The interview comes at the start of a conference in which Ms May is fighting for her political survival, with even the notion that she will survive until 2019 now again under debate.

She faces a resurgent Labour party, Tory rebellions over energy prices and the UC rollout, and foremost, clear signs that her Foreign Secretary is gearing up for a leadership challenge.

Mr Johnson has twice made major media interventions in recent days, making demands of the Prime Minister’s position on Brexit and other policies.

Asked to acknowledge in the interview, on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, that she has a clear lack of authority in cabinet, Ms May began: “What I have is a cabinet that is united…”

She was then interrupted by Mr Marr saying “no they are not”, before she ignored the comment and added: “[We are] united in a mission to build a country that works for everyone.”

The Prime Minister ignored a question as to how she could possibly tolerate Mr Johnson’s interventions, before being asked whether her authority is so weakened that Mr Johnson is “unsackable”.

She said: “Let’s be very 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’s job, you talk about my job, I think the people watching this programme are actually interested in what we are going to do about their jobs and their futures, and their children’s futures.”

Allies of the Foreign Secretary are said to believe that Ms May will be gone within a year, prior even to the UK securing a Brexit deal.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid became the second cabinet minister to refuse to endorse the Prime Minister as the person who should lead the party into the next election on Sunday, after Chancellor Philip Hammond already failed to do so last week.

Ms May had been determined to come to Manchester and regain momentum with a raft of policy announcements targeting young voters, who abandoned the Conservatives at the last election.

Theresa May says a Corbyn government would cause a run on the pound

They included plans to freeze tuition fees at £9,250 and increase the repayment threshold, meaning graduates only start paying loans back once they are earning £25,000.

But the Prime Minister was challenged over the offer, which interviewer Mr Marr claimed was meagre compared to Labour’s plan to scrap fees altogether.

“The point … is that he can’t deliver on it,” she said.

“You can only do this if you have a balanced approach to the economy which is what we have. What would Jeremy Corbyn do? He would wreck the economy.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has refused to back Ms May for the 2022 election (Reuters)

“It’s not just me saying that ... at the Labour party conference the Labour party themselves recognised that they would wreck our economy.”

Challenged over her claim, she pointed to John McDonnell’s comments that Labour had prepared a plan for a “run on the pound” if his party wins power.

But referencing the big fluctuations in the pound over the last year, Mr Marr hit back saying: “What’s happened to the pound on you watch?”

She was also asked about the brewing revolt over the planned rollout of the UC benefit, which a group of Tory MPs wants halted until problems are addressed.

Theresa May asked about woman who has 4p to her name due to Universal Credit

Ms May was criticised during the election campaign for failing to show sympathy for a nurse who had not had a pay rise in almost ten years, telling her instead that there is no “magic money tree”.

Mr Marr again tested the Prime Minister’s ability to connect to the problems of real people, asking her about a woman who said she had just 4p left after her UC payment was delayed.

Rather, than address the specific case, Ms May simply said: “I’ve accepted, Andrew, that there have been problems with the rollout. And this is something that [Pensions Secretary] David Gauke and I are looking at.

“But overall it’s important because it does see more people helped into the work place.”

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