Boris Johnson threw another hand grenade into the Tory Brexit civil war today as he delivered a speech at party conference.
The former foreign secretary launched another savage attack on Theresa May’s blueprint for future ties with the EU at a rally in Birmingham.
He warned that Britain had to show ‘self-belief’ and stand up for ‘freedom’, as well as jibing at Philip Hammond over dodgy Treasury forecasts.
Organisers had to open another tier in the hall to accommodate the demand, with around 1,500 people squeezing into the hall.
Eurosceptics including David Davis, Steve Baker, Priti Patel, Iain Duncan-Smith, Owen Paterson and Jonathan Redwood were in the front row. Mr Johnson’s father Stanley and sister Rachel were also in the crowd.
Mr Johnson said: ‘There is only one thing I really worry about in this critical autumn of 2018, and that is that after 200 years this oldest and most successful of all political parties should somehow lose confidence in its basic belief in freedom.
‘And that after 1000 years of independence this country might really lose confidence in its democratic institutions.
‘And that we should be so demoralised and so exhausted as to submit those institutions – forever – to foreign rule.
‘If I have a function here today – it is to try, with all humility, to put some lead in the collective pencil, to stop what seems to me to be a ridiculous seeping away of our self-belief, and to invite you to feel realistic and justified confidence in what we can do.’
David Davis was in the front row for Boris Johnson’s speech in Birmingham today
Mr Johnson took aim at Chancellor Philip Hammond over his claim he would never become Prime Minister
The former foreign secretary was greeted by a praetorian guard of supportive MPs as he arrived at the gathering in Birmingham
Mr Johnson was flanked by MPs including Conor Burns (left) as he made his first appearance at the Tory conference this year
Mr Johnson was met by a scrum of photographers as he arrived at the conference centre in Birmingham this morning, but refused to answer questions on whether he is trying to humiliate Mrs May.
A small welcoming committee of Brexit-backing MPs had also been standing out in the cold waiting for his arrival.
The group – including Andrea Jenkyns, Ross Thomson, Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Ben Bradley – shook his hand and shared a few brief words with the ex minister as he strode into the Hyatt hotel.
But Mr Johnson remained tight-lipped out his hotly anticipated speech – refusing to answer if he was making a thinly veiled pitch for the Tory leadership.
Miss Jenkyns told MailOnline: ‘People are eager to see Boris – he really connects with our activists.
‘As a Brexiteer, I’m hoping that he spells out his views for Brexit and how the current issues with the government’s proposals can be overcome.
Boris faces backlash from senior Tories over leadership agitating
Boris Johnson is facing a mounting backlash from Tories as he steps up his leadership sniping at Theresa May.
Mr Johnson’s tough line on Brexit and support for traditional Tory values has made him a favourite with the party’s grass roots.
But there has been a notable backlash against the ex-minister over his trouble-making.
Former trade minister Lord Digby Jones was applauded when he condemned Mr Johnson as ‘irrelevant and offensive’ from the conference stage on Sunday.
Cabinet ministers told Mailonline Mr Johnson had not been doing himself any favours with his obvious trouble-making.
One senior Brexiteer minister said: ‘Boris is not being helpful. He is just wrong on this and he has misjudged it.’
Another pointed out the contrast with the ‘respectful’ way David Davis had conducted himself since resigning in protest at the Chequers plan.
Asked if he would be watching Mr Johnson speak today, former deputy PM Damian Green – who is bald – said he would be ‘washing my hair’.
John Howell, who took over from Mr Johnson as Tory MP for Henley, told The Sun: ‘As far as I’m concerned, Boris can just f*** off.’
‘Our country is crying out for a Brexit vision.’
Asked if she backs Mr Johnson to be leader of the Tories, she said: ‘I quite openly back him.
‘But this is not about that today. It is about him connecting with our activists.’
The appeal of Mr Johnson to the party rank-and-file was underlined by the sight of scores of activists queuing round the block to get into the venue for his speech, more than 90 minutes before it was due to kick off.
Mr Johnson’s father Stanley was in the front row of the 1,500-seater auditorium.
He was seen sharing a friendly chat with former Cabinet minister and leading Brexiteer Priti Patel.
Tory MPs Owen Paterson, Zac Goldsmith and Peter Bone were also in the hall to hear the speech.
A clearly tetchy Mrs May was repeatedly grilled over her rival’s manoeuvring during a round of interviews earlier – but tried to ignore the questions by talking about her other priorities.
With a grim smile, Mrs May said she expected Mr Johnson’s speech to be a ‘lively event’.
But she insisted she was focused on improving opportunities for young people and delivering her Brexit deal.
Downing Street made a bold bid to distract from the circus around Mr Johnson today by unveiling the government’s post-Brexit immigration policies, saying EU nationals will in future be treated the same as people from all around the world.
Mrs May herself will not be watching Mr Johnson’s intervention as she is due to be doing interviews.
Meanwhile, the PM’s allies launched a series of vicious barbs at the ambitious politician – with one bald MP joking that he would be ‘washing my hair’ rather than watching Mr Johnson speak.
In his speech Mr Johnson will also hit back at Philip Hammond for planning to increase taxes and accuse him of abandoning ‘Conservative values’.
The Chancellor sent a clear signal yesterday that next month’s Budget will include tax rises to pay for a multi-billion pound planned rise in NHS spending.
But Mr Johnson will return fire, saying the party should ‘follow our conservative instincts’ and focus on core Tory issues such as law and order and tax cuts to beat Labour at the next election.
‘In what allies openly described as an alternative leader’s speech, he will suggest the party has moved too far to the Left and should instead take ‘basic conservative ideas and fit them to the problems of today’.
Mrs May appeared not to know exactly when Mr Johnson was speaking as she referred to an ‘evening’ event when he is actually due on stage at 1pm
Mr Johnson came through security with other Tory members before being whisked away to make his final preparations for his speech
Mr Johnson left his Oxfordshire home for the conference centre in Birmingham this morning
Couched as an attack on Mr Corbyn, Mr Johnson’s speech contains a series of barely disguised barbs at the Prime Minister and her Chancellor.
He will say the Tories must not ‘lose our faith in competition and choice and markets’ or follow the Labour leader and ‘treat capitalism as a kind of boo word’.
Mr Johnson will tell the Conservative Home event: ‘We can’t lose our faith in competition and choice and markets but we should restate the truth that there is simply no other system that is so miraculously successful in satisfying human wants and needs.
‘We should set our taxes to stimulate investment and growth.
‘We should be constantly aiming not to increase but to cut taxes. It is the conservative approach that gets things done so let’s follow our conservative instincts.’