The Brexit secretary, David Davis, has said that any speculation in the Conservative party about a potential challenge to Theresa May’s leadership would be “the absolute height of self-indulgence”.
Speaking before May meets backbench MPs on Monday, Davis dismissed any suggestion of plots and urged his colleagues to get behind the prime minister.
“I view the stuff in the papers this weekend as the absolute height of self-indulgence,” he said of speculation that May could be challenged. “We have been given an instruction by the British people, given a decision by the British people. It’s now for us to go back and do the job, not to bicker amongst ourselves about whose fault it was, or whatever, but to get on with the job. And the job is an incredibly important one.
“What you’re going to see in the next weeks and months is Theresa May at her best. She’s a very good prime minister. I’ve served with her for 10 months. I’ve seen a number of previous prime ministers in operation. She is incredibly effective as a prime minister.”
Davis’s comments formed part of a wider attempt by May’s senior ministers to show support for her. Writing in Monday’s Sun, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, said last week’s election result, in which the Conservatives’ majority was wiped out, was “a stunning achievement”.
Johnson, tipped as a possible challenger to May, said ministers should support her, and voters were “fed up to the back teeth” with elections and intrigue.
“They are fed up with politics, politicians and the uncertainty and dislocation of the electoral process. They overwhelmingly want us to get on with the job,” he wrote. “Yes, of course it is partly about Brexit and we must get that right.”
Speaking about Brexit on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Davis said the government would try to get a free trade agreement “as close to the single market” as possible, but it could not remain within the single market due to the need to control the UKs borders.
He said: “We’ve made pretty plain what we want to do. It’s outside the single market but with access. It’s outside the customs union but with agreement, it’s taking back control of our laws and borders.
“Those things are fundamental and we didn’t just pull them out of the air, we spent 10 months devising that strategy.”
Asked whether he had seen May upset after the election result. Davis said: “She’s fine. She’s getting on with her job. For 10 months I have worked with this prime minister. She is a formidably good prime minister. She is good at making decisions.”
Davis appeared to concede that May had run a poor election campaign. He said: “There is a distinction between running a campaign and running a country. And running a country is more difficult and she’s incredibly good at it.
“You’re going to see in the next few weeks her taking back command, her taking back the reins, her showing what’s she’s good at, which is delivering for the country. That’s why she’s going to be there probably for my career at least.”
On Monday afternoon at a meeting of the party’s 1922 Committee of MPs, May is expected to signal she will run her government in a more collegiate, less controlling way, after sacrificing her two closest advisers, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy at the weekend.
May carried out a modest reshuffle of her top team on Sunday as speculation continued to swirl about her future, including bringing back Michael Gove into government as environment secretary, replacing Andrea Leadsom. Gove crashed out of the cabinet last year after challenging May for the Conservative leadership, stymying Boris Johnson’s chances in the process.
With many backbenchers blaming May for the party’s poor performance at the polls, one senior Conservative said she would have to give a “barnstorming” performance at the meeting to hold on to her job.
George Osborne, who was sacked by May as chancellor last year, described her as a “dead woman walking”, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “It is just how long she is going to remain on death row. I think we will know very shortly. We could easily get to the middle of next week and it all collapses for her.”
Jeremy Corbyn has delayed any reshuffle of his own frontbench team as the party focuses on maximising pressure on the Tories and drafting potential amendments to the government’s Queen’s speech, which is due to be delivered on 19 June.
If May survives, she is likely to have to ditch controversial manifesto policies in order to secure the backing of the House of Commons, and present a stripped-down programme for government focusing on implementing Brexit and avoiding potential flashpoints.
As part of her reshuffle, Damian Green, a longstanding ally who campaigned for remain in last year’s referendum, will be first secretary of state – effectively her deputy.
George Freeman, the MP for Mid Norfolk who chairs May’s Downing Street policy board, described Green’s promotion as “a good sign that the PM’s new government will have a better balance between Brexit and tackling the domestic grievances behind it”.
After the reshuffle, May said in a pooled television clip: “I am pleased that people from across the party have agreed to serve in my cabinet and we are going to be getting on with the job.
“I said during the election campaign if re-elected I would serve a full term … What I am doing now is actually getting on with the immediate job. I think that’s what’s important. I think that’s what the public would expect, they want to see government providing that certainty and stability.”