As it happened - Conservative party conference: Theresa May faces challenges on all fronts amid threats to her job and stalled Brexit talks

Prime Minister tries to rally MPs in Manchester as protesters plan to take to streets and Cabinet members openly position themselves for potential leadership race

Jon Sharman
Saturday 30 September 2017 16:20 BST
Conservative Party Conference preview - what to watch out for

The Conservatives have gathered in Manchester for their annual conference as Theresa May battles to retain the faith of her party, amid slow progress in Brexit talks.

The beleaguered Prime Minister has faced two public interventions on Brexit from Boris Johnson and reported behind-the-scenes division among ministers about withdrawal from the EU.

Speaking on the eve of conference the Foreign Secretary told The Sun Ms May’s proposed transition period must not last “a second longer” than two years.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling later sought to present a united front, saying: “What I want from the Brexit talks, and what Boris Johnson wants from the Brexit talks, and, indeed, all of us around the Cabinet table want, is the best possible deal for Britain.”

Mr Johnson’s move came as a letter to the Prime Minister from senior pro-Brexit Tory MPs and business figures in the Leave Means Leave group stated: “If the EU is not seriously negotiating a free trade deal by Christmas 2017, the Government should give formal notice that we will move to World Trade Organisation rules in March 2019.”

Signatories calling for the hardline stance include former Brexit minister David Jones, and the issue is set to feature heavily at the Tory conference.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said Mr Johnson’s intervention had undermined the Government’s Brexit negotiating position.

Senior European figures have cast doubt on whether talks on the divorce settlement will have progressed sufficiently to allow negotiation to begin on a new trade deal, with EU Commission president Jean-Cleaude Juncker saying the UK would need “miracles” if it were to happen.

Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson has made her own mark on Brexit, calling for “serious people” to take charge of the process and criticising “over-optimism”.

Ms Davidson, tipped as a future party leader, will also demand in a speech to conference that Scotland reap more benefits from being part of the UK.

She will say Britain “continues to be far too London-centric”, claiming the capital has “enough civil servants to fill Wembley stadium”.

She will add: “We live in a country where the property values of London’s top 10 boroughs are worth more than all of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales combined.”

Ms May must also deal with a growing revolt over her plans to tackle high energy prices, with nearly 80 of her MPs calling on her to fulfil an election promise to introduce a cap on bills.

A total of 76 Conservatives MPs have joined forces with 116 Labour, SNP and Green members in the cross-party drive to give families price protection against “stitch-up” energy firms.

Mr Cable has said he will join anti-Brexit protesters outside the conference this weekend. Writing exclusively in The Independent, he said: “The issues don’t come any bigger than Brexit – which is why I will addressing marchers protesting at the Conservative conference in Manchester this weekend.

“Brexit changes most things, not least the quaint notion that governments always seek to increase the prosperity and opportunities of its citizens. It is vital ministers in the hall hear thousands of British people demanding an exit from their disastrous Brexit.”

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