LONDON — Boris Johnson has backed down over his attempt to change the government’s Brexit course after criticism from senior Conservatives and business groups.
The foreign secretary was told on Monday by Chancellor Philip Hammond that “everyone is sackable” after his latest Brexit intervention, where he announced his “red lines” for any deal between the UK and the European Union.
Johnson on Monday insisted that he is loyal to Prime Minister Theresa May, telling the BBC that May had “a cabinet that is totally united behind every comma, every full stop, every syllable of the prime minister’s excellent Florence speech.
“That’s the agenda that we’re going to deliver and we’re going to deliver a great Brexit for this country.”
May defended her decision not to sack Johnson on Tuesday morning, saying that she was showing strong leadership by having a “diverse range of voices around the cabinet table.”
She said: “Weak leadership is having a cabinet full of yes men. Weak leadership is having a team of people who only agree with you.”
The foreign secretary made it clear that he would not try to stop a transition deal that was similar to Britain’s membership of the EU, retreating from his previous position which would have put that deal in danger.
Johnson had previously argued that the transition period should not be longer to two years and that the UK should not accept any new EU laws during that time.
The foreign secretary revealed the disunity in the cabinet over how Brexit should progress, with his “red lines” coming weeks after he published a 4,000-word article about his vision for a “glorious” Brexit the week before May’s keynote speech on Brexit in Florence.
Asked whether it was too dangerous to move the foreign secretary, May refused to comment on if he should be sacked but said: “Of course a prime minister makes decisions about who is in their cabinet.”
The prime minister also said that she had seen a copy of Johnson’s speech to the Conservative conference on Tuesday afternoon, which is reportedly titled “Let the lion roar.”
Hammond said the cabinet should not be split over Brexit: “I think the more we can show unity, the stronger our negotiating position with the European Union would be.”
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