An event last Thursday saw a quarter of the 50 party financial bakers present demanding Theresa May’s resignation. She is seen at church in Maidenhead on Sunday
Theresa May is facing a revolt from Tory party donors and growing pressure to step down as soon as a trade deal is negotiated with the EU this autumn.
A fundraising event in London last Thursday saw a quarter of the 50 party financial bakers present demanding her resignation, according to one businessman in attendance.
It comes after a torrid few days for the Prime Minister, with criticism focused on her perceived lack of direction over Brexit, concerns about upcoming council elections and a widely criticised reshuffle.
Last week’s fundraising dinner proved a hotbed for discontent, according to The Times, who reported an attendee as saying: ‘Among even the most loyal middle-ranking donors there is utter despair.
‘Dominic Johnson [a Tory party treasurer] stands up and says: “I love Theresa May, who could possibly want to replace her?” What he didn’t expect was about a quarter of the room to say “yes [we do]”. This was a room of very, very traditional donors.’
Repeated reports of vicious infighting in the previous week prompted Tory loyalists to rally around Mrs May yesterday and warn infighting would hand power to Jeremy Corbyn.
The Prime Minister is facing attacks from all sides of the Tory factional war, with Brexiteers insisting she is not being tough on the EU and Remainers warning the Government is letting down the country.
One source close to the European Research Group (ERG) of Brexit-supporting backbench Tory MPs put her chances of survival at ’50-50′.
Culture Secretary Matt Hancock led calls for calm yesterday, warning his colleagues to ‘pull together and pull behind the Prime Minister’
Culture Secretary Matt Hancock called for calm yesterday, warning his colleagues to ‘pull together and pull behind the Prime Minister’.
And senior backbencher Charles Walker said that anyone thinking the PM might be pressured into naming a date for her departure should ‘sit in a darkened room and put a cold towel over their heads’.
Sacked Cabinet ministers Nicky Morgan and Justine Greening led criticism of Mrs May yesterday, warning she should have resigned as PM in the aftermath of the election disaster last year.
But Mr Hancock told the World at One programme: ‘I think we should all pull together and pull behind the Prime Minister.
‘There are challenges facing the country that we need to rise to together, there’s also some huge opportunities that we need to take advantage of.
‘The biggest risk to our country would be a socialist government that would send us backwards and would undermine all of the work that we have done to get the economy going – with a record number of jobs – and in a whole host of areas where we have made progress.’
The new criticism came after former party chairman Grant Shapps demanded Mrs May set a date for her departure in a furious attack yesterday.
The public rows come amid rife rumours that Brexiteers are close to forcing a new leadership contest on Mrs May by sending letters to the powerful 1922 committee.
Senior backbencher Charles Walker said that anyone thinking the PM should name a date for her departure should ‘sit in a darkened room and put a cold towel over their heads’.
The spat has intensified as negotiations reach a critical point – with the UK and EU laying their cards on the table about the kind of relationship they want to see.
Mrs May gathered her Brexit ‘war Cabinet’ yesterday morning to try to hammer out an agreed position.
But there is still a huge battle going on about how close the UK’s economy should be to the EU after we formally leave.
In a sign of the weakness of her position, Downing Street confirmed yesterday that Mrs May will make a limited speech focused on security cooperation in Munich next month – rather than setting out a new vision of Brexit as had been expected.
In a blog for the ConservativeHome website, Mrs Morgan – now chair of the Commons Treasury committee – wrote: ‘There were times last year for the Prime Minister to step aside – immediately after the June 2017 election, or after Party Conference.
‘That didn’t happen. Maybe the Cabinet should have asked her to go, but they didn’t.’
‘We are now into a critical nine months for the future of the country, so the Cabinet need to get a grip by acting collectively to shape Brexit and agree an ideal end-state based in reality, on what Parliament will approve eventually – and then stick to it.’
Ex-minister Nicky Morgan (file picture) said Mrs May should have been kicked out of No10 last year – and urged ministers to take matters into their own hands by driving forward policy while Justine Greening (right) said the PM had an ‘impossible’ task
Miss Greening, seen as a Remainer, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I remain a strong backer of the Prime Minister.
‘I’ve been very disappointed to see the soundings off. I think they need to stop and I think people need to get behind her.
‘I think she is doing an important job for our country. We need to support her in that impossible, almost, task that she has negotiating Brexit.’
Trade Secretary Liam Fox, a Brexiteer, also attempted to shore up Mrs May’s position.
Responding to claims the government is being too timid, he pointed out that it only had a majority in parliament with support from the DUP.
The perceived lack of certainty over Brexit has led to senior Conservatives warning Mrs May (pictured in Downing Street today) could be toppled unless she shows firmer leadership
In a message to Eurosceptics, he told Bloomberg: ‘They would be foolish to do anything to destabilise the government and the prime minister. Nothing will change the electoral arithmetic.’
He added: ‘Ultimately we have to get an agreement that will please different wings of the Conservative Party but most importantly that is good for the country.’
One backbencher told The Guardian: ‘She’s as vulnerable as she’s ever been. She’s got to make a decision.’
Tory MP Johnny Mercer told a panel discussion in London this morning: ‘How long has the PM got?
‘I am of the view any sort of change of leadership is not helpful at the moment and I don’t support that but I do think the window is closing because politics can be quite a brutal game.’
Ex-minister John Whittingdale said there should be no leadership election now, but admitted there were ‘issues of leadership’ that should be dealt with after a Brexit deal is done.
Charles Walker, vice chair of the Tory backbench 1922 committee, dismissed rumours that the number of MPs who had sent letters calling for Mrs May to resign was approaching 48 – enough to trigger a formal leadership contest.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that committee chairman Sir Graham Brady never disclosed such information.
‘Nobody knows but Sir Graham Brady and if you asked him he wouldn’t tell you,’ he said.
Heidi Allen declared that infighting was letting the country down and called on the PM to ‘get a grip’.
Responding to rumours that civil servants are preparing concessions on trade, a senior pro-Brexit Tory said: ‘It comes back to the fact that no one knows what the prime minister really thinks – everyone’s projecting their worst fears on to her.’
Boris Johnson narrowly avoided a blunder as he left Downing Street yesterday – with the top of a document marked ‘official: sensitive’ poking out of his folder
David Lidington (left) and David Davis were seen arriving at Downing Street yesterday as the PM held a meeting of her Brexit ‘war Cabinet’
Trade Secretary Liam Fox, a Brexiteer, also attempted to shore up Mrs May’s position. He is pictured outside No10 yesterday
It comes as Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps said that unless the Prime Minister announces a timetable for the end of her ‘uninspiring’ leadership, she could soon face a vote of no confidence.
His powerful intervention came as the party is convulsed by plots, feuds and increasingly outspoken criticism of Mrs May by Tory MPs dismayed by her botched reshuffle.
The febrile atmosphere has been intensified by the need for the Government to set out its vision of an ‘end state’ for Brexit to EU negotiators within the next month – triggering open Cabinet battles between ‘soft’ Brexiteers such as Chancellor Philip Hammond and the hard Brexit camp led by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Plymouth MP Johnny Mercer told The Mail on Sunday: ‘We need to be doing better, or we will pay the price.’
Several Tory MPs are thought to have decided over the weekend to send letters to Sir Graham Brady, the Chairman of the party’s 1922 Committee, calling for a leadership contest.
If Sir Graham receives a total of 48 letters, he is obliged under party rules to spark that contest with a confidence vote.
Sir Graham has not revealed how many letters he has received, but senior sources believe that it was already ‘nudging 40’ before the latest batch went in this weekend.
So who’s first in line to step in and take over? Our very rough guide…
Former Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps says that unless the Prime Minister announces a timetable for the end of her ‘uninspiring’ leadership, she could soon face a vote of no confidence
Mr Shapps has not yet sent a letter himself, because he says he feared that a leadership contest would destabilise the Government.
But friends say that after Mrs May’s reshuffle earlier this month – notable for Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s refusal to move jobs – Mr Shapps’ stance is shifting. Writing in this newspaper, he says that Mrs May’s loss of authority was making it ‘excruciatingly difficult’ for her to ‘demand obedience from her own Cabinet’.
The Welwyn Hatfield MP said that it was ‘becoming increasingly clear day by day that we cannot continue to muddle along like this’ and Mrs May should ‘name a date’ and ‘do so before it is too late’.
Mr Shapps dismisses the argument used by many May loyalists that she should not go before Brexit in March 2019 – pointing out that Neville Chamberlain was replaced by Winston Churchill when we were at war with Germany in 1940.
Downing Street ‘outed’ Mr Shapps last October for collecting a list of the names of Tory MPs who were privately saying that Mrs May should stand down – but had not necessarily written to Sir Graham.
Mr Shapps says he was trying to ‘control the process’ so that any bid to start a leadership contest could be timed to the maximum advantage of the party.
It is understood that Mr Shapps made clear to Downing Street that he would not send his own no-confidence letter if No 10 worked with him to ‘gauge the mood’ in the party – but the offer was rebuffed.
Captain Mercer, a former Army captain who entered the Commons in 2015, warned that unless the Government’s performance improved the party could face electoral wipeout.
The Afghanistan veteran said: ‘We need to be doing better, or we will pay the price with the electorate. We have to face down some of the very clear challenges on the NHS, housing and defence.’
Asked about Mrs May’s performance, he stopped short of calling for Mrs May to step down, saying: ‘I’m not going to comment on the Prime Minister.’ The botched reshuffle – and lack of clarity over Brexit – have stirred resentments on the backbenches among even normally loyal MPs.
Captain Mercer, a former Army captain who entered the Commons in 2015, warned that unless the Government’s performance improved the party could face electoral wipeout
Mark Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire – who once called for rebellious colleagues to be sacked – said this weekend: ‘There is a growing frustration that No 10 is not plugged in to the views and opinions of many backbench MPs or even interested.
‘The PM is also being criticised for taking her very small group of allies for granted. A big mistake.’ Mrs May’s most senior Cabinet Ministers are becoming increasingly entrenched in their positions on Brexit.
Mr Johnson was rebuked by fellow ‘soft’ Brexit Cabinet Ministers last week – led by Mr Hammond – when he pre-briefed a Cabinet call for a Brexit dividend for the NHS. He is also planning to set out his personal vision for a ‘clean’ EU withdrawal next month.
Mr Hammond then caused fury among the Brexiteers when he claimed last week that Brexit would involve ‘very modest’ changes to the status quo.
Leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has accused the Government of a ‘timid and cowering’ approach to the Brexit talks. He warned: ‘The leader is important but the party is more important. Brexit is more important than anyone other than the Queen.’