The number of Tory MPs who want the Prime Minister to resign now runs into ‘several dozen’, according to rebel leaders who have been taking the temperature on the backbenches since Theresa May’s General Election disaster.
One MP, who has drawn up a list of those who ‘definitely’ want Mrs May to step down, said the number was ‘more than 25 but fewer than 30’.
He said about half want her to go now, half want her to promise to quit immediately after Brexit.
Sources close to David Davis claim he would stand in the event of a leadership contest
A leadership contest would be called if 48 Tory MPs write to the chair of the 1922 committee
A source claimed Boris Johnson is not paranoid because the PM is out to get him
The activity is being monitored closely in No 10 because a leadership contest would be triggered if a minimum of 48 MPs sent letters to Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 committee, calling for one.
Another MP, a close ally of David Davis, even claimed that the number was ‘close to 50’. His allies’ activities suggest that Davis would stand in a leadership contest if the party had to call one.
The ‘rebel whips’ said that the numbers had not gone up since Mrs May’s Brexit speech in Florence on Friday because she had been ‘careful not to offend either wing of the party’, but they were ‘monitoring her conference speech closely’.
The issue of the leadership was thrown back into the spotlight last week when Boris Johnson published his ‘Brexit blueprint’ – the culmination of more than a year of frustration over feeling marginalised. He finally snapped when a key meeting about the Florence speech was held while he was abroad.
Now a senior Government source has said that the Foreign Secretary is not simply paranoid: Mrs May really was out to get him – to reduce the threat he posed to her authority.
The source said: ‘The PM made him Foreign Secretary in order to screw him up. It was designed to expose his limitations – and it has.
‘He was cut off at the knees after Brexit and trade deals were removed from the department and given to Davis and Liam Fox, leaving him to fly around the world pointlessly.
‘No one can turn down an offer to become Foreign Secretary, but he has wilted in the spotlight, as have his leadership ambitions.’
No 10 compounded Mr Johnson’s difficulties by appointing MP Sir Alan Duncan – a long-term Boris critic – as his deputy: Mr Johnson’s allies believe he is No 10’s ‘spy in the camp’.
Mr Johnson was supported last week in his attempt to steer Mrs May towards a harder Brexit by Environment Secretary Michael Gove. They had become alarmed after being tipped off by civil servants that she planned to announce in her speech in Florence that Britain would be tied permanently to EU rules in return for access to the single market.
Mutual friends urged them to jointly resign during Thursday’s Cabinet meeting if Mrs May confirmed this.
In the end, the Cabinet meeting passed without drama.