Theresa May stands firm as backbenchers question her future
Ex-party chairman Grant Shapps says 30 Tory MPs in favour of her resignation
Prime Minister Theresa May coughs as she delivers her keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Theresa May has dismissed a call from Conservative backbenchers for her to step aside, insisting she has the full backing of her cabinet. The prime minister was speaking in her Maidenhead constituency after Grant Shapps, a former party chairman, said that about 30 MPs backed his call for her to resign.
“Now what the country needs is calm leadership, and that’s what I’m providing, with the full support of my cabinet,” she said. “And next week I’m going to be updating MPs on my Florence speech, which has given real momentum to the Brexit talks. And I will also be introducing a draft Bill to cap energy prices, which will stop ordinary working families from being ripped off.”
Cabinet colleagues rallied around the prime minister after Mr Shapps admitted he had been collecting signatures from MPs who wanted her to go. He said five former cabinet ministers were among those who backed his cause.
“I believe Theresa May is very decent person and unfortunately fought an election that didn’t work out,” he said. “We’ve not really managed to see that relaunch. There’s that sort of lack of discipline in the cabinet and party conference this week, and 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. It never got better for [Gordon] Brown and [John] Major and I don’t think it’s going to work out here either.”
Speculation about Ms May’s future was rekindled after her calamitous speech to the Conservative Party conference on Wednesday, when a prankster handed her a P45, she had a prolonged coughing fit and lettering fell off the slogan behind her. Party rules require the backing of at least 48 MPs to launch a leadership challenge but Mr Shapps said he hoped to persuade the prime minister to resign of her own accord.
Environment secretary Michael Gove said the entire cabinet and the overwhelming majority of Conservative MPs wanted the prime minister to carry on and complete the task of taking Britain out of the European Union.
“No one is burying their heads in the sand,” he told the BBC. “What we’re doing is concentrating on delivering and governing effectively. The critical thing is the PM has been doing a fantastic job. She showed an amazing degree of resilience and courage this week, of a piece with the fantastic leadership she’s shown throughout the time she has been 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,” he added.
Mr Shapps said it was no surprise that ministers were rallying around Ms May but that it was wishful thinking to believe she could survive for long.
“There are a significant number of MPs with concerns about the prime minister who think it’s time for her to go. It might not be now, it could be in a year, but the party needs to be honest with itself about it,” he said.