Tories ‘circle the wagons’ against plot to oust Theresa May

Boris Johnson takes to WhatsApp group to tell MPs voters are ‘fed up with this malarkey’

Pranksters, coughing fits and an errant F, British prime minister Theresa May's speech at the Conservative party conference had several eventful moments.

 

Senior Tories have rallied around Theresa May as the ringleader of the plot to oust her was roundly condemned.

Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom and Ruth Davidson were part of a determined attempt to “circle the wagons” around the embattled UK prime minister after her ill-starred conference speech.

The UK foreign secretary urged fellow Tories to “get behind the PM” and turn their fire on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, like Mr Johnson tipped as a potential successor to Ms May, urged the party to “settle down” while Commons leader Ms Leadsom told plot ringleader Grant Shapps to “shut up”.

In a message on a Tory WhatsApp group, Mr Johnson said: “We have just had an election and people are fed up with this malarkey.

“Get behind the PM. Ordinary punters I have spoken to thought her speech was good and anyone can have a cold.”

He told Tories to “circle the wagons, turn the fire on Corbyn and talk about nothing except our great policies and what we can do for the country”.

Mr Johnson’s intervention came after he faced calls to be sacked for destabilising the party following his intervention on Brexit on the eve-of-conference and his controversial remarks about Libya at a fringe event.

Mr Shapps, who has claimed to have the backing of around 30 MPs — with some Cabinet members also privately offering support — said demands for a leadership election were growing.

Tory MP Michael Fabricant described Mr Shapps as “embittered” while colleague Vicky Ford dismissed the Welwyn Hatfield MP as “completely out of touch”, revealing “he’s not even in our WhatsApp group”.

‘Incredibly unhelpful’

Mr Shapps was reportedly later added to the group on the app, simply so colleagues could make clear their fury at his move.

Ms Leadsom, who ran against Ms May for the party leadership in 2016 only to pull out of the contest, said: “I don’t think that there’s anything like 30 others and I think what Grant Shapps is doing is incredibly unhelpful.

“Like a lot of my colleagues have said today, he should shut up.”

She told BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions that Ms May “has the absolute support of her entire Cabinet and of her party”.

Former cabinet minister John Redwood — who ran unsuccessfully against John Major after he challenged rebels to “put up or shut up” — gave his support to Mrs May.

The prominent Brexit-backer said: “I do not support Mr Shapps in his view that we need a Conservative leadership election.”

He also cast doubt about the level of support Mr Shapps claimed to have, pointing out they had “not spoken out or let their names be known”.

“Unusually reticent rebels? Or they don’t exist,” he said.

Ms Davidson hit out at the plotters saying: “I think if the plotters were serious, they would be led by someone a bit more serious.”

She added: “I have to say I’ve not got much time for them. I really don’t think that having a bit of a cold ... when you are trying to make a speech changes the fundamentals of whether Theresa May is the right person to lead the country.

“I think there’s an awful lot of people in our party that need to settle down.”

PA