Boris Johnson 'united with Cabinet' behind Theresa May on Brexit

Updated: 

Boris Johnson has used his Tory conference speech to praise Theresa May and insist the Cabinet is entirely united behind her approach to Brexit.

The Foreign Secretary, whose own "red lines" on Brexit have overshadowed the Conservative Party conference and led to calls for Mrs May to sack him from her Cabinet, paid tribute to the Prime Minister.

Responding to the general election - in which Mrs May lost the Tory majority - Mr Johnson stressed that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn did not win.

He told the conference in Manchester: "You won - we won. Theresa May won.

"She won more votes than any party leader and took this party to its highest share of the vote in any election in the last 25 years - and 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."

Mr Johnson used his speech to attack Mr Corbyn - "that Nato-bashing, Trident-scrapping, would-be abolisher of the British army" - and the "zombie" ideology of 1970s-style socialism.

But he also strayed beyond his foreign affairs brief, in comments which will bolster speculation about Mr Johnson's leadership ambitions - although he was at pains to point out the actions already being taken by Mrs May's Government.

Setting out the battle against Labour, Mr Johnson told the conference: "We may have the most illustrious battle honours of any political party but now we have to win the battle for the future and the way to win the future is not to attack the market economy, not to junk our gains but to make it work better - make it work better for the low paid - turning the living wage under this Conservative government into a national living wage.

"Make it work for all those who worry their kids will never find a home to own - building 100s of 1000s of homes.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson paid tribute to the Prime Minister during his speech (Owen Humphreys/PA)

"Make it work better for parents who can't find good enough childcare - with 30 hours free care for three and four-year olds.

"And above all help people who are struggling, by driving benefit reforms that have helped millions back into the dignity and self-esteem that goes with having a job and which has seen inequality fall - as the Chancellor pointed out yesterday - to the lowest levels for three decades."

Setting out an optimistic vision of the UK's post-Brexit future, Mr Johnson said: "There is a huge desire out there for us to engage with the world more emphatically than ever before.

The Tory party faithful hung on Mr Johnson's every word (Owen Humphreys/PA)
The Tory party faithful hung on Mr Johnson's every word (Owen Humphreys/PA)

"And after Brexit that is what our partners are going to get as this country is freed from endlessly trying to block things in Brussels committee rooms. Freed to stop being negative and to start being positive about what we believe in - including free trade.

"And yes we are leaving the EU - but as the PM has said in her Florence speech we can create a deep and special partnership built on free trade with a strong EU buttressed and supported by a strong UK.

"And since it is manifestly absurd to argue that European values or culture or civilisation are somehow defined or delimited by the institutions of the EU, we will be no less European.

Boris Johnson
Mr Johnson's speech went down well (Peter Byrne/PA)

"Britain will continue to be European in culture, geography, history, architecture, spiritually, morally, you name it."

The Foreign Secretary said it was time for the "lion" - the British people - to be allowed to "roar" after Brexit.

"We can win the future because we are the party that believes in this country and we believe in the potential of the British people. We have been privileged collectively to be placed in charge of this amazing country at a critical moment in our history.

"We are not the lion. We do not claim to be the lion.

"That role is played by the people of this country. But it is up to us now - in the traditional non-threatening, genial and self-deprecating way of the British - to let that lion roar."