Political news

Boris denies claims he will quit if PM concedes too much to Europe

Prime Minister Theresa May is greeted by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres as she arrives at the UN General Assembly in New York, US PICTURE: Stefan Rousseau/PA

BORIS Johnson has dismissed suggestions he might resign as foreign secretary and denied the cabinet is split over Brexit.

He spoke out amid reports he might quit over differences with Theresa May about the kind of Brexit deal the UK should strike.

His comments came after days of speculation about rifts at the top of government sparked by the publication of his 4,000 personal blueprint for Brexit in the Daily Telegraph at the weekend.

The prime minister flew in late on Monday evening after a visit to Canada during which she was forced to fight off claims that Mr Johnson had become a "back-seat driver" in her Cabinet. She attempted to stamp her authority on the situation with a firm declaration: "This government is driven from the front."

The foreign secretary spoke to TV cameras in New York after bumping into them at a hotel lift as he returned from a jog.

Asked if there was a cabinet split on Europe, Mr Johnson said: "No, we are a government working together. We are a nest of singing birds."

And asked directly if he would resign, he replied: "No."

Mr Johnson is due to see the prime minister for the first time since his Telegraph article as the pair attend the United Nations General Assembly.

Dressed in a red polo shirt, a visibly sweaty Mr Johnson joked: "Your viewers are going to be very distressed to see me before I've had a shower."

Asked about reports that he had privately predicted Brexit talks would fail, he said: "No, no,no, we are going to deliver a fantastic Brexit."

Former foreign secretary William Hague used the Daily Telegraph article to warn that senior ministers "lack coordination" on Brexit and it is "high time" that they settled on an agreed plan.

If Mrs May's crunch speech fails to unite the Cabinet, "Jeremy Corbyn will be prime minister", he warned.

Mrs May's cabinet will meet tomorrow to be briefed on her plans for Brexit ahead of a major speech on the subject in Italy on Friday.

The Telegraph report – dismissed as "mischief" by allies of the foreign secretary – suggested Mr Johnson would be prepared to quit by the weekend if Mrs May concedes too much to the European Union in her efforts to secure a trade deal.

Mr Johnson's intervention – and speculation about his future – has dominated the run-up to the crucial Brexit speech being delivered by Mrs May in Florence.

Billed as the PM's most important update to the government's position since her Lancaster House address in January, the speech is thought likely to include an attempt to break the deadlock over the UK's financial settlement.

Speculation has been mounting she will offer to pay tens of billions of pounds to the EU during a two to three-year transition deal after the UK's formal exit in 2019.

The foreign secretary is understood to accept the idea of the UK paying its dues to Brussels during a transition period – but not for continued payments for access to the European single market on a permanent basis.

While Lord Hague issued a call for Cabinet unity, veteran Tory Europhile Ken Clarke said Mr Johnson should have faced the sack for his Brexit intervention.

Former chancellor Mr Clarke said: "Sounding off personally in this way is totally unhelpful and he shouldn't exploit the fact she hasn't got a majority in Parliament, and he knows perfectly well that normally the foreign secretary would be sacked for doing that – and she, unfortunately, after the general election, is not in the position easily to sack him – which he should stop exploiting."

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