Theresa May has told plotting Conservative MPs “it’s me or Jeremy Corbyn”, her clearest admission yet that she is fighting to save her job.
The Prime Minister tried to head off a summer leadership challenge by insisting it would inevitably trigger a general election – and the Labour leader reaching Downing Street.
The warning came amid suggestions that the first letter of no confidence is in circulation among Tory MPs, although only a small number have signed it so far.
At a summer party, Ms May pleaded with her MPs to “go away and have a proper break and come back ready for serious business”.
“No backbiting, no carping. The choice is me or Jeremy Corbyn - and no one wants him,” Conservative MPs who were present reported her saying.
In reality, it would be possible to replace the Prime Minister without a further election if Tory MPs refused to overturn the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, although it would be politically difficult.
With MPs leaving Westminster for the long summer recess in two days’ time, Ms May is safe for now – but allies of David Davis, Boris Johnson and, perhaps, Philip Hammond will still be circling when they return.
The crunch is likely to come at the annual Conservative conference at the start of October, when the Tory faithful will demand to say evidence that she can turn her premiership around.
At a Cabinet meeting today, the Prime Minister will attempt to enforce discipline by ordering her top team to stop leaks and damaging briefings about the Chancellor, Philip Hammond
At the weekend, Mr Hammond all-but admitted a report that he had told the Cabinet that public sector workers are “overpaid” – while denying he said “even a woman” can drive a train.
And he claimed his colleagues were out to get him because they are “not happy with the agenda that I have” on Brexit, which is to strike a lengthy transitional exit deal.
The feuding culminated in an unnamed minister accusing the Chancellor of trying to “f*** up” Brexit, the Daily Telegraph reported.
However, Home Secretary Amber Rudd appeared to lay down her own Brexit challenge today, when she called on the Prime Minister to prioritise “a soft landing and protect jobs”.
Ms Rudd also admitted only “most” of the Cabinet were focusing on their own jobs, while insisting Ms May had her full support.
“We want to make sure we have a soft landing and protect jobs,” she told Sky News.
“Colleagues should be getting on - as most of them want to - with delivering on what they have been asked to do.”
It would require 15 per cent of Conservative MPs – a total of 48 – to write to Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, to trigger a vote of no- confidence in Ms May’s leadership.
Ahead of the Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Cabinet must be able to hold discussions of Government policy in private and the Prime Minister will be reminding her colleagues of that.”
Meanwhile, Treasury “remit letters”, to be sent within weeks to boards that set the salaries of three million public sector workers, are expected to order them to keep inside the 1 per cent cap on rises.
However, they may be allowed to prioritise those paid the least next year, provided overall staff budgets are not increased, The Times reported.
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