Brexiteers call for end to leadership challenge talk as splits open among eurosceptic Tories

The day had started with talk of an imminent 'coup' against the prime minister 

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Wednesday 12 September 2018 19:09 BST
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Iain Duncan Smith called leadership challenge talk 'stupid'
Iain Duncan Smith called leadership challenge talk 'stupid' (Getty)

Senior Tory Brexiteers have called for an end to talk of a leadership challenge against Theresa May after claims of a Eurosceptic plot to oust dominated the morning news.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said any MPs talking about challenging Ms May were indulging in “stupid personality nonsense”.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, ex Brexit secretary David Davis and current cabinet minister Michael Gove all made comments seeking to refocus the party’s debate on Ms May’s Brexit plans and away from her leadership.

It came as splits emerged in the Conservative eurosceptic movement with the European Research Group (ERG) unable this week to publish a broad document outlining an alternative to Ms May’s ‘Chequers’ Brexit proposals.

Mr Duncan Smith told BBC Radio 5 Live that talk of a coup was “totally overblown” and he would “stamp” on any that he found.

He added: “You get 50 MPs of any political party together and you’re always going to get some that are going to start arguing the toss about ridiculous issues.

“All I would say to them is, stop it, it’s just stupid. If you’ve got nothing better to do, go and find yourself some work, because that’s the best cure for stupid personality nonsense.”

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At an event to launch the ERG’s proposals related to the Irish border Mr Rees-Mogg insisted he was seeking a change of government policy on Brexit, not a change in leadership.

He said: “I have long said, and repeated again and again, that the policy needs to be changed but I am supporting the person.”

Tory MPs had been expecting a broader intervention from the ERG this week on Brexit, but the group’s members were unable to decide on how to approach key elements.

Some were said to be ready to consider voting for Ms May’s proposals once they saw the final deal that comes back from the EU.

Mr Mogg’s comments were echoed by former Brexit secretary David Davis, who quit the government over the Chequers plan which would see Britain maintain a “common rule book” with the EU for trade in goods and agriculture.

“I disagree with her on one issue – this issue,” said the ex-Brexit secretary.

“She should stay in place because we need stability and we need decent government as the backdrop to what we are doing in the coming six months.”

Mr Gove described rumours of a direct leadership challenge “whether it was Boris (Johnson) or any other individual” as “loose talk” that might undermine the mandate for Brexit.

Around 50 MPs discussed ways of getting rid of the prime minister at the ERG gathering on Tuesday night, according to reports.

A number of MPs told how they had already submitted letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, and others discussed plans to follow suit. If 48 letters are handed over, a vote of no confidence would be triggered.

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Mr Gove, a Brexiteer who unsuccessfully stood against Ms May for the leadership in 2016, told BBC Radio the PM is doing a “great job at the moment”.

Asked whether it would be better for Ms May to tackle any leadership challenge head-on, he replied: “No. This is loose talk, you always have loose talk.

“The critical thing is to ensure that we deliver on that Brexit mandate.

“Any diversion or any distraction from that mission means that our ability to ensure that the referendum mandate that we were given is delivered, is undermined.”

As well as the ERG meeting, “leadership issues” were raised by MPs at a dinner with the PM’s senior aides.

However, a handful of backbenchers still told the prime minister’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell that his boss must “chuck Chequers” over a dinner at No 10 on Tuesday night.

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