Theresa May has come under fresh pressure from within her own party to step down as British prime minister as it emerged on Friday that a former Conservative party chairman is leading an attempted coup against her.
Grant Shapps, co-chair of Britain’s ruling Tory party between 2012 and 2015, claims having the backing of nearly 30 party MPs – including former Cabinet ministers.
He plans to spend the weekend taking that number up to the required 48 MPs to write to the chairman of the Conservative party’s powerful 1922 Committee of backbench MPs to trigger a leadership contest within the party. “I think it’s time we actually tackle this issue of leadership and so do many colleagues. We wanted to present that to Theresa May privately. Now I’m afraid it’s being done a bit more publicly,” Shapps told the BBC.
May dismissed the brewing dissent as she told reporters that she had the “full support” of her Cabinet. “Now, what the country needs is calm leadership, and that’s what I’m providing, with the full support of my cabinet,” she said when asked about the efforts led by Shapps to gather sufficient support among Tory MPs to force a leadership contest.
While 61-year-old May’s own Cabinet has rallied around her, Shapps accused them of trying to overlook a series of blunders that made May’s leadership of the party and the country untenable.
Calls for the British PM’s resignation have been growing ever since a doomed general election in June, which lost the Tories their overall majority in Parliament. Most recently, calls for Theresa May to step down have been revived as a result of a disastrous speech at the annual Conservative party conference in Manchester.
Her key policy messages were all lost in a series of mishaps including an interruption by a prankster, her own coughing fit and, to make matters worse, a faulty party message sign falling off on stage letter by letter.
“I think a growing number of my colleagues realise the solution isn’t to bury our heads in the sand and hope things will get better…We have spoken to people from the Cabinet and ones who privately agree, I’m sure today publicly they will say otherwise,” said Shapps during a series of media statements on the issue.
He said the group of MPs supporting him included members across policy divides and covered Brexiters and those who supported remaining in the European Union (EU). But some party colleagues have jumped to May’s support and accused Shapps of stirring up trouble when an overwhelming majority” want her to carry on as Prime Minister.
“The truth is the overwhelming majority of Conservative MPs, the truth is the entirety of the cabinet, the truth is the overwhelming majority of people, want the prime minister to concentrate on doing the job that 14 million people elected her to do earlier this year,” said UK environment secretary Michael Gove, who had been one of the leadership contenders for the Conservatives alongside May when David Cameron exited 10, Downing Street after the Brexit vote last year.
Gove’s intervention came as UK home secretary Amber Rudd made a very public appeal in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ asking May to continue despite the “trio of mishaps” that blighted her conference speech.
“We, Theresa May’s Government, want to…set out a better path, one that actually leads to a prosperous, secure and united country. We can do that, and we will under her leadership. She should stay,” she wrote.
Charles Walker, the vice-chairman of the influential Tory backbench 1922 Committee, also came out strongly against the Shapps-led coup attempt.
He said: “No 10 must be delighted that it’s Grant Shapps leading this alleged coup. Grant has many talents but one thing he doesn’t have is a following in the party, so really I think this is going to fizzle out to be perfectly honest.”
May, meanwhile, is recovering from her cold and cough that ruined her party speech at home in her Maidenhead constituency before spending the weekend at the Prime Minister’s country retreat in Chequers.
Speaking to reporters in Maidenhead, May insisted she planned to carry on with business as usual.
“What I think is necessary for the country now, what the country needs, is calm leadership. That’s exactly what I’m providing, and I’m providing that with the full support of my Cabinet,” she said.
Next week, on Wednesday, the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs will meet for the first time since the party conference for what could be a crucial moment for the party’s future and May’s own leadership.