Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has suffered a humiliating rebuff in front of Theresa May's cabinet over a leaked report that suggested he would demand a post-Brexit dividend of £100m a week for the NHS.
The BBC reported that Johnson was hoping to use the cabinet meeting to kick off a debate about healthcare spending in the midst of winter pressures on the NHS. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had been due to give an update to cabinet members.
Johnson's bid to secure extra funding was supposedly driven by a fear that May was ready to abandon the NHS as an electoral cause, allowing Jeremy Corbyn to make it a key campaign point for Labour.
Following the cabinet meeting, May's official spokesman told the Guardian: "The prime minister and a large number of cabinet ministers made the point that cabinet discussions should take place in private.
"Regarding the future and how any return of EU contribution would be spent, the prime minister reminded cabinet that the government has consistently said we will spend money on our priorities such as housing, schools and the NHS."
The Telegraph reported that Hunt, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt were expected to back Johnson's plan.
He has long been considered a potential future Conservative leader and was widely considered a frontrunner for the job when David Cameron resigned after the EU referendum. In what has been a tumultuous 18 months for the prime minister, Johnson has been one of the leading options for alternative leadership, though he has not been without his own controversies.
Backbench Conservative MP Anna Soubry took to Twitter before the cabinet met to suggest that May should sack Johnson for longstanding incompetence and disloyalty. Soubry warned that if May did not act Johnson could "bring her down".
Chancellor Philip Hammond was the first to respond to the reports as he arrived at a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels.
"Mr Johnson is the foreign secretary," he said in a sly putdown. He noted that an extra £6bn had already been allocated to the NHS in the November budget.
Johnson was a key figure in the Vote Leave organisation campaigning to leave the EU in the runup to the 2016 referendum. Vote Leave claimed the UK was sending £350m to the EU every week, and that a leave vote would allow this money to be given to the NHS.
Their discredited claim was famously seen on the side of the Brexit Bus, with Johnson alongside.