News, Culture & Society

ANDREW PIERCE on the political tectonic plates beginning to shift against Mrs May 

The first sign the tectonic plates were shifting in the parliamentary party against Theresa May came from the backbench MP Conor Burns yesterday.

Long before the 585-page official Brexit document was published, he’d told Sky News: ‘I have consistently said we don’t want to change the PM, we want to change the policy of the PM. 

‘However, there comes a point where if the PM is insistent that she will not change the policy, then the only way to change the policy is to change the personnel.’

The first sign the tectonic plates were shifting in the parliamentary party against Theresa May came from the backbench MP Conor Burns yesterday, says ANDREW PIERCE. 

At Westminster the remark caused a mini political explosion.

Burns is a confidante and close ally of Boris Johnson whose resignation as foreign secretary in July over Brexit was the first shot in a leadership challenge to Theresa May. 

In private Burns had been coruscating about Mrs May’s performance in the negotiations. While he never mentioned her by name in his carefully phrased remark, it was a clarion call to Brexiteers, and sceptical Remainers, to rise up against her.

It’s inconceivable Burns hadn’t spoken to Johnson first before dramatically raising the stakes against the Prime Minister.

In the increasingly febrile atmosphere at Westminster last night it was crystal clear the Johnson bandwagon was now up and running against the PM.

Burns, and Johnson by proxy, were telling colleagues to get ready their letters to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee, demanding a no confidence motion. 

MP Conor Burns is a confidante and close ally of Boris Johnson whose resignation as foreign secretary in July over Brexit was the first shot in a leadership challenge to Theresa May

MP Conor Burns is a confidante and close ally of Boris Johnson whose resignation as foreign secretary in July over Brexit was the first shot in a leadership challenge to Theresa May

One senior Tory MP told me last night: ‘When I saw what Burns said it was clear: they are finally moving against the Prime Minister.’

Burns is a long standing Eurosceptic and has been a champion of a no-deal Brexit for months.

Shortly before he spoke on Sky, Burns held a private meeting at Westminster with DUP leader Arlene Foster, who has threatened to vote against the Brexit deal.

Burns knows all about the drama of leadership contests. He was a close friend and confidante of Baroness Thatcher in her declining years. 

Lady Thatcher, like Mrs May, called in her Cabinet ministers one by one back in 1990, when her leadership was under sustained attack.

Within 24 hours, Lady Thatcher had resigned as Tory leader. Most Sundays Burns would go to Lady Thatcher’s home in Belgravia to watch Songs of Praise, her favourite TV programme, with her. 

They would have a gin and tonic and he would encourage her to reminisce about her time as PM.

Burns, and Johnson by proxy, were telling colleagues to get ready their letters to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee, demanding a no confidence motion

Burns is adamant that Lady Thatcher, who had a famously and increasingly toxic relationship with the EU during her premiership, would have been a staunch Brexiteer.

So who is the MP who has fired the first shot in a potential new Tory leadership battle?

Conor Burns grew up in Hertfordshire, and studied history and politics at Southampton University. After a career in business, he entered Parliament in 2010 as MP Bournemouth West.

In the 2017 general election, Ukip – which had come second in the constituency two years earlier – decided not to field a candidate against Burns because he had been a consistent opponent of the EU. 

Burns has ridiculed Philip Hammond’s claims that no deal would trigger an £80billion hit to the economy, quipping: ‘If optimism was a disease, Hammond would be immune’

Burns has ridiculed Philip Hammond’s claims that no deal would trigger an £80billion hit to the economy, quipping: ‘If optimism was a disease, Hammond would be immune’

As Johnson’s parliamentary private secretary at the Foreign Office, Burns acted as Boris’s eyes and ears on the backbenches. While Johnson has a strong following with the party faithful in the country, his relationship with fellow MPs is more problematic.

He will need their support to get on the final shortlist in any leadership contest.

That’s why in the months before his Cabinet resignation, Burns launched a Johnson charm offensive. For the first time, Boris started to appear on the Commons terrace in the evenings to socialise with Tory MPs, a calculated move to build up support.

Burns has ridiculed Philip Hammond’s claims that no deal would trigger an £80billion hit to the economy, quipping: ‘If optimism was a disease, Hammond would be immune.’ 

He might do well to bear in mind, however, even the most optimistic Boris supporters, are far from convinced that he’ll the next Tory leader.’

 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk