British PM May could sack Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

British Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at the UN General Assembly last month. Mr Johnson has been accused by some of undermining Mrs May.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at the UN General Assembly last month. Mr Johnson has been accused by some of undermining Mrs May.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May has signalled that she could sack Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a British newspaper said, as she tries to reassert her authority after a series of political disasters.

The Sunday Times said it asked Mrs May about her plans for Mr Johnson, who has professed loyalty to the Prime Minister but is accused by some of undermining her by putting forward his own vision for Britain's exit from the EU.

"It has never been my style to hide from a challenge and I'm not going to start now," the newspaper quoted Mrs May as replying, in what it called a signal that she was prepared to bring in new ministers to her Cabinet and axe those who had caused her problems.

"I'm the PM, and part of my job is to make sure I always have the best people in my Cabinet, to make the most of the wealth of talent available to me in the party."

The reshuffle, according to the newspaper, would take place after an Oct 19-20 summit in Brussels where Mrs May will be hoping for a breakthrough on Brexit talks that few think possible.

Mrs May has seen her authority over her Conservative Party erode since she called a snap election in June in which she lost her majority in Parliament.

Mr Johnson, seen as a potential successor to Mrs May, has said that Conservative lawmakers pushing to unseat her were "nutters".

He added that a change would lead to demands for another election that could bring a resurgent Labour Party back to power.

"Are we really going to be stampeded myopically over the edge of the gorge, with an election that no one wants?" he said in the Sunday Telegraph.

Mr Johnson wrote a newspaper article last month outlining his vision of Brexit just days before Mrs May made a major speech on the subject.

While professing loyalty, his interventions have been seen as undermining Mrs May and causing unnecessary unrest ahead of the party's conference last week that culminated in a disastrous speech by the Prime Minister, made worse by a coughing fit and letters falling off the slogan on the set behind her.

Mr Grant Shapps, a former Conservative Party chairman, last Friday said he was organising a campaign to persuade her to step down - to which Mrs May responded by saying she was providing the "calm leadership" the country needed.

Removing Mrs May now would throw Brexit negotiations into disarray. It would take as long as three months for the Tories to pick a new leader, and there are just 18 months to go until Britain is set to tumble out of the bloc.

Concerned that Mrs May's government will collapse before Brexit is complete, European Union negotiators have held more back-room talks with the opposition Labour Party, the Telegraph reported.

The negotiators want assurances that Labour will honour deals made with the Tories, the newspaper said.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2017, with the headline 'PM May could sack Boris Johnson'. Print Edition | Subscribe