Theresa May is expecting Boris Johnson to remain in her Cabinet as Foreign Secretary, Downing Street has said.
The comment came after Mr Johnson dismissed reports that he might be on the verge of quitting and denied the Cabinet is split over Brexit, insisting: “We are a nest of singing birds.”
Mrs May has called a special meeting of Cabinet at Number 10 on Thursday to discuss her crunch Brexit speech in Italy the following day, which a Downing Street source said would be “a significant moment” in the process of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
Speculation has been rife that Mr Johnson may resign or be sacked after an explosive article setting out his personal blueprint for Brexit overshadowed the run-up to the Florence address.
The essay sparked reports that the Cabinet is split between those like Chancellor Philip Hammond, who favour an “EEA-minus” deal similar to Switzerland’s involving payments for access to the single market, and those including Mr Johnson who prefer a “Ceta-plus” arrangement involving a simple free trade deal like Canada’s.
Mrs May and Mr Johnson are at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, but her spokesman said they had not met since the Foreign Secretary’s intervention.
Their schedules do not coincide until today when Mr Johnson is due to be in the audience for Mrs May’s formal address to the UN, and he is not due to join the PM at a reception for Commonwealth leaders on Tuesday evening, the spokesman said.
Asked if Mrs May thought Mr Johnson would remain in the Cabinet beyond the weekend, the PM’s spokesman told reporters in New York: “Yes. Boris Johnson is the Foreign Secretary and, as the Prime Minister has said, he is doing a good job.”
Mrs May was meeting a series of world leaders at the UN General Assembly, as well as hosting a meeting on modern slavery which will be attended by US president Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka.
The PM’s spokesman said that Mrs May had met Ivanka at the G20 summit in Germany in July, when Ms Trump expressed an interest in giving her backing to the campaign against modern slavery which the Prime Minister has spearheaded.
Mrs May is due to meet Mr Trump himself for private one-on-one talks on Wednesday.
Asked if Mrs May had confidence in Mr Johnson, the PM’s spokesman said simply: “Yes.”
Mr Johnson 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 said: “We are working together, that is the key thing, to make sure that Britain can take advantage of the opportunities of Brexit.”
A 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.
Billed as the PM’s most important update to the Government’s position since her Lancaster House address in January, the Florence 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.
Veteran Tory Europhile Ken Clarke said Mr Johnson should have faced the sack for his Brexit intervention, while fellow grandee Lord Hague issued a call for Cabinet unity.
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.”