BORIS Johnson has backed Theresa May to get a “great deal” for Britain as he tried to draw a line under the damaging Cabinet row over Brexit.
But the Prime Minister risked deepening the bad feeling after she stayed away from his keynote Tory conference speech this afternoon.
The Foreign Secretary had promised to “let the lion roar” in his address to Conservative activists – but began by heaping praise on his boss after days of in-fighting.
Mr Johnson, who managed to pack out the arena in Manchester, vowed that it was Mrs May that won the election, not Mr Corbyn as his acolytes had suggested at last week’s Labour conference.
“He didn’t win,” he told members 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.
“The whole country owes her a debt for her steadfastness in taking Britain forward as she will to a great Brexit deal.
And he insisted that on her Florence speech “the whole cabinet is united” – despite going further and publishing his own negotiating “red lines”.
But his speech came after the PM was urged to sack him by senior EU figures, who said the internal strife within the Conservatives was harming their ability to get a deal.
Mr Johnson tried to divert attention away from the subject by attacking Mr Corbyn, saying he was “that Nato bashing, trident scrapping, would-be abolisher of the British army”.
And he said that his support for Venezuela’s dictator Nicolas Maduro was “Caracas” and a “disgrace”.
Mr Johnson stormed: “I can tell you there are many Labour MPs who feel appalled that their party is still led by this man and his peculiar belief – expressed in glutinous victory-style Chavista rallies up and down the country – that he somehow won the election.”
And he hit out at the Financial Times for being too depressing about Brexit, as he explained his more positive vision for the UK outside the EU.
He said: “Every day a distinguished pink newspaper manages to make Eeyore look positively exuberant and across the world the impression is being given that this country is not up to it.
“That we are going to bottle out of Brexit and end up in some dingy ante-room of the EU, pathetically waiting for the scraps but no longer in control of the menu.”
And on Brexit he promised that we would finally be free when we leave the bloc in 2019.
To cheers in the conference hall he said: ”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."
He said that even though we would leave the EU, we will remain a strong nation and an integral part of Europe afterwards.
Mr Johnson added: "Britain will continue to be European in culture, geography, history, architecture, spiritually, morally, probably… you name it.
"We are one of the great quintessential European nations. In many ways the most influential of all and that is because our most important exports are our values.
“British values. Embodied in this amazing metropolis of Manchester as they are in London and across the country.”
The Tory jester delivers:
On George Osborne: “This city has shown that nothing and no one can bow the indomitable
spirit of the people of Manchester, which in recent years has reinvented itself as the great thrumming engine of the northern powerhouse.
“With its vast potential to generate jobs in finance, in academia, in journalism and the arts – and that’s just the ones held by George Osborne.”
On Jeremy Corbyn: “He says he still admires Bolivarian revolutionary socialism. I say he’s Caracas.”
“We have a growing space programme run by my brother Jo Johnson and I have a candidate for the first man we gently blast into orbit and that is the superannuated space cadet from Islington.”
On the state: “We want a country with a government that works for everyone. Corbyn
wants a Britain where everyone works for the government.”
On going back to the 1970s: “We think they get the reference but unfortunately going back to the
1970s sounds to too many people like a massive joint revival concert by David Bowie, Led Zep and the Rolling Stones.”
On Nigeria and backstabbing: “Just in the last few weeks I have seen British troops training the Nigerian forces to defeat the numbskulls of Boko Haram around Maiduguri – where British doctors are tending the maimed victims of terror and as our helicopter swooped over the burned and deserted villages they said there was a risk of pot-shots from behind.
"And I said it was an occupational hazard in my line of work.”
On troops abroad: “I have seen the 800 British troops in Estonia and congratulated them on resisting the honey traps allegedly placed in their way by Russian intelligence.
“At least they said they had resisted.”
On Sadiq Khan: “Well look at London today, storming ahead – even if the new mayor isn’t a patch on the last guy.”
On the Financial Times: “Every day a distinguished pink newspaper manages to make Eeyore look
But what had been expected to be a further push in his quest to become the next Tory leader was not the barnstorming speech he has been known to deliver.
Despite queues out the door to come and listen to the party favourite there was much less applause than expected.
And although his final section, where he finally mentioned the “lion roar” which had been previewed, his standing ovation was cut short in comparison with previous addresses to the faithful.
He said about the potential for a successful post-Brexit Britain: “There are people say we can’t do it. We say we can.
“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.”
Elsewehere he also hit out at his successor for Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, saying he "wasn't a patch on the last guy”.
"He seems to spend his time trying rather ineffectually to ban things," Mr Johnson stormed, swiping at his removal of Uber's licence.
"Why not try doing something for a change?"