Boris Johnson has been accused of trying to undermine Theresa May by “back-seat driving” the Brexit negotiations.
The public slapdown of the Foreign Secretary by his Cabinet colleague and Home Secretary Amber Rudd came after Mr Johnson penned a lengthy article setting out his Brexit blueprint, which was viewed by many as a leadership bid.
Its publication came just days before the Prime Minister due to give a major international speech on leaving the EU in Florence.
As well as drawing criticism from within his own party, it fuelled speculation over Mr Johnson’s future in the Cabinet.
Ms Rudd, who is seen as a key ally of Mrs May, told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show that she does not want Mr Johnson “managing the Brexit process”.
She said the PM is “driving the car” and of Mr Johnson’s actions added: “You could call it back-seat driving.”
Ms Rudd campaigned for Remain at last year’s Brexit referendum and famously said at the time that Mr Johnson, the face of the Leave campaign, was “not the man you want driving you home”.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman dismissed any suggestion the Foreign Secretary might seek a leadership role in the talks and said: “The PM is leading the Brexit negotiations and Boris is fully behind her in getting the best deal.”
Mr Johnson said in a tweet on Saturday he was “looking forward to PM’s Florence speech” and was “all behind Theresa for a glorious Brexit”.
But it did little to calm the furore. The Mail on Sunday said that allies of the PM believed the move was “hostile” and “attention seeking”.
Sir Craig Oliver, former director of communications at Downing Street for David Cameron, said even if the genuine intention was to support the Prime Minister, it was obvious it would be seen in Westminster as a “direct challenge”.
Damian Green, the first secretary of state who is Mrs May’s deputy, said Mr Johnson would not be sacked.
“The Cabinet is united in working for the best possible Brexit deal for Britain,” he told Sunday with Niall Paterson.
Mr Green insisted Mrs May was the “driver” in the negotiations.
Mr Johnson said in his article that a UK free from the EU could “be the greatest country on earth”.
He appeared to be pressing Mrs May when he said: “We would not expect to pay for access to their markets any more than they would expect to pay for access to ours.”
And he repeated a controversial claim making during the campaign that the UK will have £350m a week to spend on the NHS after Brexit.