Michael Gove says he “absolutely” has confidence in Theresa May as she pursues her Brexit deal.
Rumours had been rife that the environment secretary would follow fellow Brexiteers out of the cabinet in protest at the EU withdrawal agreement.
But he told reporters on Friday that he was focused on working in cabinet to get “the right deal in the future”.
Mr Gove reportedly rejected an offer to make him Brexit secretary after Dominic Raab’s exit.
The PM has said her Brexit agreement is “truly the best deal for Britain”.
The BBC understands Mr Gove said he would only accept the job of Brexit Secretary if he could try to make changes to the negotiated deal – something Mrs May and EU leaders have made clear is not possible.
- Live: Theresa May vows to sell Brexit deal
- BBC experts on the draft deal
- Pound steadies after worse day since 2016
- Brexit Q&A: Your questions answered
Asked if he had confidence in the PM, Mr Gove said: “I absolutely do.”
He added: “I’m also looking forward to continuing to work with all my government colleagues and all my colleagues in parliament in order to make sure that we get the best future for Britain.
“I think it’s absolutely vital that we focus on getting the right deal in the future and making sure that in the areas that matter so much to the British people we can get the right outcome.”
By BBC Assistant Political Editor Norman Smith
Michael Gove is not resigning because he thinks that even at this very late hour, he is the person who can make Theresa May change course with Brexit.
This is a huge relief for Theresa May, who meanwhile has been carrying on with business as usual by trying to sell her deal.
Theresa May has made it absolutely clear that she is going nowhere.
Senior placed Tory MPs are saying they have reached the magic 48 letters needed for a vote of confidence against Theresa May, but Sir Graham Brady – chairman of the 1922 committee – is giving precious little away.
A Conservative party leadership challenge is most definitely looming, if not this morning or this afternoon, by the weekend.
Michael Gove is a bit of a man of mystery, but if he doesn’t take the Brexit Secretary role, it begs the question of who would take that job.
Mr Gove’s decision to stay is a boost for Mrs May, who has gone on the offensive as speculation swirls around Westminster about a vote of no-confidence in her, which could lead to her removal as prime minister and a change of course on Brexit.
She followed up a defiant Downing Street press conference on Thursday with a live phone-in on Friday morning on LBC radio, during which two callers said she stand aside.
She compared herself to her cricketing hero Geoffrey Boycott who she said had “kept at the crease and carried on”.
Asked whether she still had the support of the Democratic Unionists, on whom she relies upon for her Commons majority, she said she was “still working with” Arlene Foster’s party.
The government unveiled its long-awaited draft withdrawal agreement on Wednesday, which sets out the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU, over 585 pages.
But Mrs May is facing opposition from across the political spectrum to the draft deal, which must be approved by Parliament, with critics saying it will leave the UK indefinitely tied to the EU.
The draft agreement has also upset some Tory backbenchers, including leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said he and others had submitted letters of no confidence in Mrs May to the chairman of the Conservatives’ backbench 1922 Committee.
Forty eight letters are needed to trigger a confidence vote.
It is also understood that a group of cabinet ministers are also considering whether to try to force Mrs May to make some changes to the withdrawal deal.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said there was still time to improve the text.
“The European Union has spun this out deliberately to try to use time against us,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today. “But European negotiations are never over until they’re concluded.”
- May at the mercy of events
- No Brexit renegotiation, EU leaders warn
- May: I am going to see this through
- Raab quits over ‘flawed’ Brexit agreement
The provisional agreement sets out commitments over citizens’ rights after Brexit, the proposed 21-month transition period, the £39bn “divorce bill” and, most controversially, the “backstop” to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
It still needs to get the stamp of approval from MPs in Parliament, and finally from the 27 other EU member states.
Elsewhere, some of Mrs May’s own backbenchers warned the deal would not command support in the House of Commons, when it is put to a vote in early December.
Tory MP Mark Francois said that with Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems and Northern Ireland’s DUP planning to vote against it – alongside, he said, more than 80 Tory MPs – it was “mathematically impossible to get this deal through the House of Commons” and it was “dead on arrival”.
However during a press conference in Downing Street, Mrs May said abandoning the withdrawal deal would be “to take a path of deep and grave uncertainty when the British people just want us to get on with it”.
Brexit: Michael Gove ‘absolutely’ confident in Theresa May}