Plot to oust Theresa May breaks into the open

Plot to oust Theresa May breaks into the open

Ex-Tory chairman Grant Shapps emerges as ringleader of rebellion against prime minister

Grant Shapps, former Conservative chairman, has emerged as a ringleader of the plot to oust Theresa May, saying that Tory MPs were “perfectly within their rights” to urge the UK prime minister to quit.
Mr Shapps said up to 30 Conservative MPs supported the move but that no current cabinet ministers were involved, as the party reacted to Mrs May’s disastrous party conference this week.
Speaking on BBC 5 Live, Mr Shapps said: “We did have a result that was not at all what anyone wanted, least of all what she wanted or anticipated, and . . . sometimes when things happen you have to take responsibility for them.
“This is a view I have held for quite some time and quite a lot of colleagues feel the same way, including five former cabinet ministers.”
He said that support for the plot came from a “broad spectrum” of backbenchers across the party, including Eurosceptics and pro-Remain Tory MPs. He said the party could not “bury its head in the sand”.
Mr Shapps said he was not speaking on behalf of foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who has clashed with Mrs May over her position on Brexit and has long harboured leadership ambitions.
“I can absolutely assure you this is not some cover for Boris Johnson. I have not spoken to him at all about this.”
Grant Shapps was Conservative party chairman from 2012 until 2015 © Getty

Michael Gove, environment secretary, said Mr Shapps was wrong to move against Mrs May and that the numbers of MPs supporting a change in party leader “are sometimes plucked out of the air”.
He told the BBC’s Today programme that Mrs May could carry on as leader “as long as she wants” and that the party hoped she would carry on until the next general election.
Ed Vaizey, a former minister and friend of Mrs May’s predecessor David Cameron, said: “I think there will be quite a few people who will now be pretty firmly of the view that she should resign.” A serving minister said she was “terminally” damaged.
Margot James, business minister, told the BBC’s Newsnight: “There are some ex-cabinet ministers or ex-ministers who are extremely embittered individuals who just want to get their own back.”
The latest anti-May plotting, intended to rally enough rebel Tory MPs to directly ask her to quit, comes even though the majority of their colleagues believe that a leadership contest would plunge the party into a bitter civil war.
Under party rules, a contest can be triggered if 15 per cent of Conservative MPs write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee saying they no longer have confidence in the leader. Mr Shapps’s move would therefore need the backing of at least 47 of the party’s 316 MPs.
If she was removed there would be a meltdown, it would split the party and kill the government
MINISTER
Although the rebellion is so far insufficient to force Mrs May out, it has added to the pressure on a prime minister whose attempt to restore her authority over her party disintegrated amid chaotic scenes at the Conservative conference in Manchester.
Mrs May’s keynote speech on Wednesday was overshadowed by her suffering a coughing fit, a prankster serving her with a fake P45 redundancy notice and parts of the conference set falling down.
Cabinet ministers loyal to the prime minister responded by telephoning Mrs May to urge her to carry on.
The 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs — the so-called “men in grey suits” — has also urged her to stay, fearing her removal would result in a divisive leadership contest and throw Brexit negotiations with the EU into confusion
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Charles Walker, the committee’s vice-chairman, said of Mrs May’s speech: “She showed great courage and fortitude. I’m very happy to follow her into political battle.”
Conservative grandees are urging Mrs May to regain the initiative by conducting a ministerial reshuffle, indicating that the party would be fully behind her if she chose to sack Eurosceptic Mr Johnson.
Mr Johnson’s supposed disloyalty to Mrs May — he went well beyond her Brexit policy in recent weeks — has infuriated many in the party, but Gavin Williamson, Tory chief whip, has warned the prime minister that a reshuffle would only create more enemies on the Conservative backbenches.
Mrs May has the backing of some Eurosceptic Tory MPs, even though they are uneasy about her conciliatory speech to the EU on Brexit last month in Florence, because they fear that ousting her could lead to an early election that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would win.
Her days are numbered. The only question is: how numbered are they?
TORY MP
One minister said: “If she was removed there would be a meltdown, it would split the party and kill the government. We would be living in the socialist republic of lesser Britain.”
Mrs May’s allies have denied media reports that she is “extremely distraught”, and said she was carrying on with the job. One Tory insider said that the mood was grim and that Mrs May’s husband Philip “has hardly left her side”.
Some Conservative MPs were as unsettled by Mrs May’s uninspiring policy plans in Manchester — a series of “Labour-lite” state interventions in sectors including energy and housing — as they were by her accident-prone speech.
One Tory MP said: “The conference won’t have done much to reassure people that this is a sustainable situation. Her days are numbered. The only question is: how numbered are they?”
A former cabinet minister said: “This isn’t a happy time. I’m very unnerved by her performance, which was not an isolated thing. The whole conference was bad.”

Nick Timothy, Mrs May’s former chief of staff, wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “This week was the opportunity for the Tories to reset and show the country not only that they understand the need for change, but that they have the policies to change people’s lives for the better. Unfortunately, they failed to take their opportunity.”
Some ministers fear that Mrs May might conclude that she simply cannot retrieve the situation and quit voluntarily, but one said it was vital that she stayed on: “We have to back, back, back May, otherwise the whole world crumbles.”

George Parker and Jim Pickard

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