Theresa May hints she may sack Boris Johnson as she fights to reassert authority

May: "It has never been my style to hide from a challenge and I'm not going to start now,” Credit: PA

Theresa May has hinted that she may sack Boris Johnson as she faces calls from her MPs to reassert control over a fractured Conservative party.

The Prime Minister vowed she would not "hide from a challenge" after a difficult week that saw her withstand a leadership coup by a group of Conservative rebels led by Grant Shapps.

Supporters of Mrs May are said to have warned her that she must crack down on dissenters to bolster her authority and have urged her to freshen her cabinet to make way for rising stars.

There have been particular calls for the Foreign Secretary to be sacked from his post for overshadowing the Prime Minister in Manchester, setting out his personal Brexit “red lines” in a keynote conference speech.

Mrs May hinted that she may demote Mr Johnson in an interview with the Sunday Times where she said it was her job to make sure she had the “best people” in government.

  • May tweets photos of her campaigning this weekend

When asked about Johnson, she said: "I didn't come into politics for an easy life.

"It has never been my style to hide from a challenge and I'm not going to start now.

"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."

It came as Mr Johnson used a newspaper article to appeal for party unity - but acknowledged there had been a moment while MPs "sniffed the air" before rallying round the embattled PM.

He said only "nutters" in the party would want to oust Mrs May in a piece for the Sunday Telegraph.

"Above all the people of this country want us to get on and deliver Brexit - and we need Theresa to do it," he added.

The Foreign Secretary has faced anger from many within the party over what they see as deliberate interventions to undermine Mrs May in an effort to place himself as a potential successor.

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major hit out at the "self-absorbed" and "disloyal" behaviour of some Tories who are "driven by their own personal agenda" - comments viewed as a slapdown to Mr Johnson.

Amber Rudd has been among the PM's staunchest supporters. Credit: PA

Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, offered her backing to Mrs May and said that being a politician should "never be about private ambition".

"You've seen some quite unfortunate shenanigans this week in terms of a couple of people trying to push, but the pushback has been pretty strong, we're behind the Prime Minister (and) she's the best person to lead us forward," she told the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show.

When asked for her view on Mr Johnson, she said: "He's come out this week to say he's fully behind every dot, comma, 't' and word of the Florence speech. I want to see the Prime Minister hold him to that.

In a separate interview, Ms Davidson told ITV's Peston on Sunday: "The Prime Minister is going to walk back into the House of Commons this week... and she's going to have the support of her parliamentary team behind her.

"And if they don't get behind then they will look across the commons chamber and see exactly what's lying in wait - that is a neo-marxist government that's ready to take over under Jeremy Corbyn and I don't think any of them want that."

The Prime Minister endured a series of mishaps during her speech on the final day in Manchester, including a coughing fit, a faulty set and a prankster serving her a fake P45.

Mrs May told the newspaper she had not cried after her "uncomfortable" speech but said her "feelings can be hurt, like everyone else."

"I am pretty resilient," she added.

She also attacked media coverage of her conference address. "One minute journalists are accusing me of being an ice maiden or a robot, then they claim I'm a weeping woman in dire need of a good night's sleep," she said, adding: "I am not someone who gives up."

Grant Shapps led a failed coup against the prime minister. Credit: PA

Former party chairman Grant Shapps led a coup against May, with the Sunday Times reporting at least three Cabinet ministers talked about replacing her on the day after her speech. The uprising ultimately fizzled out, though one minister told the newspaper, "it feels to me that this is over before Christmas."

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said Mrs May "doesn't have enough authority" to lead her party and country through the Brexit process.

She told Sky News' Sunday with Niall Paterson: "It doesn't really matter who their leader is, they don't know which way they are going, they don't know what it is that they want to achieve.

"There's definitely a chunk of them that want to have no deal at all, which would be definitely contrary to British interests."