By William James
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson lauded Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday for taking on the duty of making a success of Brexit, adding that her top ministers were united behind every syllable of her EU exit plans.
Johnson, who led the leave campaign in last year’s EU referendum, had provoked the ire of cabinet colleagues by repeatedly attempting to portray himself as the champion of a genuinely ‘bold Brexit’.
Johnson praised May for winning the snap election which lost her party its majority in parliament and said the cabinet was united behind May’s recent Brexit speech in Florence.
“You won – we won. Theresa May won,” he told Conservative Party activists in the northern English city of Manchester.
“The whole country owes her a debt for her steadfastness in taking Britain forward, as she will, to a great Brexit deal, based on that Florence speech on whose every syllable, I can tell you, the whole cabinet is united,” Johnson said.
Johnson kept largely to the prepared text of his speech, which did roam beyond the remit of foreign affairs.
Ahead of Johnson’s speech, May repeatedly faced questions from reporters about whether she would sack Johnson. She sidestepped those questions.
The European Parliament savaged the British government’s handling of Brexit negotiations, voting against opening talks yet on future trade and condemning disarray in May’s team.
A German ally of conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, Manfred Weber, said cabinet in-fighting was putting a deal at risk and called on May to sack Johnson.
Boris, as he is known in Britain, repeatedly upstaged former prime minister David Cameron at party conferences though after the shock referendum result sank Cameron’s career, Johnson unexpectedly dropped out of the race to be leader.
He joked while relating a story about visiting Nigeria, that one hazard in his job was dealing with “pot-shots from behind”.