News, Culture & Society

Tory Brexit rebels bid to oust Theresa May could ‘cripple the party’, warns Sir Alan Duncan 

A senior minister has warned the plot to topple Theresa May risks doing ‘historic’ damage to the Conservatives – as even Jacob Rees-Mogg admitted it had become like an episode of Dad’s Army.

In a private letter, Sir Alan Duncan told Mr Rees-Mogg that his attempted coup at the height of the Brexit negotiations ‘amounted to a declaration of war’.

Yesterday Mr Rees-Mogg urged his band of plotters on, saying it was ‘now or never’ to ditch the Prime Minister if they didn’t want her to lead the party into the next election. But he acknowledged there was a ‘Dad’s Army’ feeling to the scheme, saying: ‘I’ve always admired Captain Mainwaring.’

Sir Alan Duncan warned that Jacob Rees-Mogg’s plot to topple Theresa May at the height of Brexit declarations ‘amounted to a declaration of war’. 

He launched a public bid to oust Mrs May last week with an extraordinary press conference outside the Commons. The MP revealed he had written a letter of no confidence and urged others to follow suit – however the plot has so far failed to gather the 48 Tory MPs needed to force a vote.

By yesterday just 24 MPs had gone public calling for Mrs May to go, and Mr Rees-Mogg – chairman of the European Research Group, an alliance of pro-Brexit Tories – acknowledged it could take another month to reach the target needed to force a leadership contest.

Asked whether Mrs May would lead the party into the next election in 2022, he said: ‘I would wait and see about that. You find Tory MPs who say they are really keen that Theresa May should lead us into the next general election.

‘Basically, if there is a vote of confidence it is not just for a year. Getting the 48 letters has shown to be quite difficult, so the idea that in a year you just repeat the process and then she would go at that point I don’t think that is realistic.

‘I think it is now, or the Prime Minister will lead the Conservatives into the next election.’

Mr Rees-Mogg told the Conservative Home website yesterday that the 48 threshold would be reached by next month. He and the ERG’s shop steward Steve Baker also met for a ‘post mortem’ on the scheme, and agreed to press ahead.

The attempted coup – a term disputed by Mr Rees-Mogg – has sparked fury among Tory moderates. In Sir Alan’s letter, a copy of which has been seen by the Daily Mail, he said that if the antics of the ERG were not toned down, they risked ‘sinking the whole ship’. He added: ‘Your press conference last week and your subsequent calls for the Prime Minister to be replaced amount to a declaration of war from a party within the Party.

‘The damage you are now causing is of historic significance and I am writing once again to ask you to appreciate the gravity of your actions and step back from taking any further steps to destabilise the Government.’

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said removing Mrs May would ‘risk the most appalling chaos’ which could threaten the stability of the country.

Former Tory leader Lord Hague warned the plot was increasing the risk of a Corbyn-led government, adding: ‘I have lived through more crises in British politics than I can remember, but I have never witnessed one more serious than this.’

The plot has also caused divisions within the ERG. Younger MPs have criticised senior figures such as Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson and Sir Bernard Jenkin for failing to join the plot, despite sharing concerns about Mrs May’s Brexit deal.

Yesterday Nadine Dorries, one of those who has sent a no confidence letter, criticised male MPs for failing to show the courage of their convictions. One MP who has submitted a letter told the Mail that some veteran Eurosceptics were being bought off by ‘tea, fruitcake and blether’.

The source said Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Paterson had been lathered with ‘more butter than the average crumpet’.

ERG sources yesterday brushed aside claims the plot had proved a flop. One senior figure said the fallout had wrecked government attempts to sell Mrs May’s Brexit deal, adding: ‘We’ll get there, and in the meantime we’re wrecking No 10’s communications grid.’