LONDON – Prime Minister Theresa May has brushed aside calls from rebel Tory MPs to stand aside, insisting that she would carry on providing “calm leadership” at the head of the Government.
In her first public appearance since her chaotic party conference speech in Manchester on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said she had the “full support” of her Cabinet.
Earlier, loyalist MPs claimed a backbench plot to oust her from Number 10 was set to “fizzle out” after former party chairman Grant Shapps was identified as the ringleader.
Charles Walker, vice chairman of the powerful Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, said the attempt to force a leadership contest lacked credibility and was doomed to fail. Shapps, who has claimed to have the backing of around 30 MPs – with some Cabinet members also privately offering support – said the demands for an election were growing.
But arriving for a charity coffee morning in her Maidenhead constituency, the Prime Minister was determined to present an image of business as normal. “Now what the country needs is calm leadership, and that’s what I am providing with the full support of my Cabinet,” she said.
“Next week I am going to be updating MPs on my Florence speech, which has given real momentum to the Brexit talks, and I will also be introducing a draft Bill to cap energy prices, which will stop ordinary working families from being ripped off.”
After Mr Shapps was named by The Times as the leader of a group of around 30 Tory MPs planning to send a delegation to Mrs May to tell her she must go, he accused the party whips of leaking his name in an attempt to “smoke out” the rebels.
The plan, he said, had been for a group – including five ex-Cabinet ministers – to approach Mrs May in private with a list of names to avoid the “embarrassment” of a formal leadership challenge.
But those loyal to the Prime Minister said it was clear that the rebels lacked the 48 MPs they needed to force a contest under the party rules, and questioned whether they could even muster as many as 30.
Mr Shapps insisted support for a leadership election was growing among a “broad spread” of MPs from across the party. “They are Remainers, they are Brexiteers,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“A growing number of my colleagues, we realise that the solution isn’t to bury our heads in the sand and just hope things will get better. It never worked out for Brown or Major and I don’t think it is going to work out here either.”
He was angrily denounced by MPs loyal to the Prime Minister, with Mr Walker dismissing his supporters as a “coalition of the disappointed” who had been overlooked for promotion.
“Number 10 must be delighted to learn that it is Grant Shapps leading this alleged coup,” he told the BBC. “Grant has many talents but the one thing he doesn’t have is a following in the party. I really think this is now just going to fizzle out.
“What you are seeing here is probably the coalition of disappointed people who think their brilliant political talents have not been fully recognised.”
Senior ministers continued to rally round Mrs May, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove – who ran against her in last year’s leadership contest – saying the “entirety” of the Cabinet, wanted her to carry on.
“She showed an amazing degree of resilience and courage this week, of a piece with the fantastic leadership she has shown through the time that she has been Prime Minister,” he said. –MercoPress