David Cameron dramatically asserted his authority over two warring cabinet ministers on Saturday when he ordered Michael Gove to issue humiliating apologies and told Theresa May to sack her closest adviser, following their public row over policy on combating extremism in schools.

A furious Cameron cracked the whip on the education and home secretaries four days after the two stunned Westminster by abandoning any pretence of cabinet responsibility and went public to voice bitter disagreements over who was to blame for failings on one of the most sensitive issues of government policy.

Following an unusually swift inquiry by the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, Downing Street issued a statement on Saturday night saying Gove had written to the prime minister and to Charles Farr, the Home Office's security chief whom he had criticised, to apologise for his behaviour. At the same time No 10 said that Fiona Cunningham, May's special adviser at the Home Office and most loyal lieutenant in her four years as home secretary, had resigned her post for negative briefing against the Department for Education. Cunningham is currently in a relationship with Farr. Such action against two top ranking cabinet ministers reflects Cameron's intense irritation at signs that discipline is breaking down at the top of government, and his frustration that their argument may have been fuelled by rivalry over who may replace him as Tory leader if the Conservatives fail to win the next election.

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