LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May is battling to assert her authority over a divided Conservative Party as she faces calls to step down as its leader before the next general election.
Mrs May insists she will fight on, amid reports that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson believes she will be gone within a year.
In a BBC television interview yesterday, Mrs May ducked the question of whether Mr Johnson is now impossible to fire after his latest outburst on Brexit, in which he set new demands for the negotiations with the European Union.
She insisted Mr Johnson and the rest of her Cabinet are agreed on her Brexit policy, which she set out in a speech in Florence, Italy, on Sept 22. In that speech, Mrs May included a number of concessions which helped unlock the Brexit talks, although likely not enough to move the negotiations on to trade later this month.
"What I have is a Cabinet that is united in the mission of this government," Mrs May said on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show before the start of the Conservatives' annual conference in Manchester. "Boris is absolutely behind the Florence speech and the line that we have taken."
Mrs May is attending the first gathering of party members and lawmakers since her disastrous decision to call a snap election in June that cost the Conservatives their majority in Parliament.
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What I have is a Cabinet that is united in the mission of this government. Boris is absolutely behind the Florence speech and the line that we have taken.
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY, on how Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the rest of her Cabinet are agreed on her Brexit policy.
The failure of her campaign severely undermined her authority, but Mrs May insisted in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph newspaper that she will stay on as leader to fight the next election.
The Sunday Times, however, reported that Mr Johnson believes Mrs May will be ousted within 12 months. The Foreign Secretary is himself facing calls for his removal after making his own demands for Brexit policy public, in what was seen as another direct challenge to Mrs May's leadership.
The jockeying for Mrs May's job has added more uncertainty to Brexit negotiations.
Mr Johnson fed into the confusion last Saturday when he warned in an interview with The Sun newspaper that he has four "red lines" for Mrs May.
The transition should be two years and "not a second more", he said. Further, Britain should stop accepting EU court decisions during the transition, must not accept any new rules, and must stop paying for access to the single market after the period ends, he added.
Mrs May's deputy, First Secretary of State Damian Green, yesterday told ITV's "Peston on Sunday" show that leadership speculation "has to stop" for the sake of the country because it gets in the way of the Brexit negotiations.
In her BBC interview, the Prime Minister was asked if Mr Johnson had now become "unsackable". She laughed and said: "You talk about Boris' job, you talk about my job; I think the people watching this programme are actually interested in what we're going to do for their jobs and their futures and their children's futures.''
Mrs May also refused to say whether Britain will have to accept changes to EU law during the Brexit transition, despite no longer being able to shape those laws. Mr Johnson had said such an outcome would be unacceptable.
On Brexit, Mrs May said EU leaders had welcomed her Florence speech, adding that while London is preparing the ground for leaving the EU without a deal, she hopes and expects to be able to reach a good settlement in Brussels.
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE