FURIOUS Tory backbenchers have told the Prime Minister they’ll stand by her if she wants to sack “donkeys” like Michael Gove, the Brexiteer Environment Secretary who has been blamed for a spate of infighting and leaks.

Gove and his allies have denied any involvement in the bitter civil war between the hard and soft Brexiteers in the party and in those jostling for position to replace Theresa May as Tory leader.

May tried to reassert what little authority she had on the Cabinet yesterday, telling her colleagues to take their responsibilities seriously.

Speaking afterwards, her official spokesman said it was vital what was discussed in Cabinet was kept private: “The PM opened Cabinet and said as Prime Minister she has introduced a more genuine and collective discussion into the way policy is developed and agreed.

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“She said the Government would make better decisions if colleagues were able to hold open discussions, that it was vital that discussions in Cabinet must remain private.

“She said the briefings and counter-briefings over the weekend had been a case of colleagues not taking their responsibilities seriously.”

The spokesman added that May then told her Cabinet: “There’s a need to show strength and unity as a country and that starts around the Cabinet table.”

Those calls for unity fell on deaf ears, as Tory insiders claimed Gove and Boris Johnson were trying to engineer a “walk out” of the Brexit negotiations in a bid to thwart the soft Brexit aspirations of Chancellor Phillip Hammond and other Remainers in the government.

An insider told the London Evening Standard that Johnson and Gove, the two friends-turned-enemies-turned-friends-again wanted to use the row over how much Britain needs to pay the EU to settle its debts, to call Brussels’ bluff and head straight for a hard Brexit.

“They want a situation where the EU just say ‘enough is enough’ and show us the door,” claimed the paper’s source. “They want the hardest of hard Brexits.”

Hammond, who has been the target of much of the infighting over the last few days wants a transitional arrangement that will ease the UK out of the EU, and could last years.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd publicly put herself in Hammond’s camp yesterday, telling Sky News that the Government wanted to “reassure businesses that there won’t be a cliff edge in this negotiation”.

Rudd said “most” ministers were getting on with the day job.

Charles Walker, vice chair of the Tory backbench 1922 committee, said he was “very angry” about the disloyalty being shown by the party to May, and said MPs would be very sympathetic if she wanted to take action.

“The party is united behind the Prime Minister. And those who have leadership ambitions should really try to understand that. They are not doing themselves any favours at all,” he told the BBC’s World at One.

“Nobody is irreplaceable. So while I respect our secretaries of state, that respect is diminished when there are briefings potentially done in their name or have their name attached to it,” Walker added.

One unnamed Cabinet minister told The Times the figures responsible for the leaks were “proverbial donkeys” who were “not worrying about the impact of their behaviour”.