The ringleader of a plot to topple Theresa May has broken cover, urging fellow Tories to no longer “bury our heads in the sand” and join the revolt.
Grant Shapps, a former party chairman, said both Remainers and Brexiteers were among about 30 Conservative MPs who believed the Prime Minister’s time was up.
“A growing number of my colleagues realise the solution is not to bury our heads in the sand and hope it will get better,” he said.
“That never worked for Brown or Major and I don’t think it will work out here either.”
Cabinet ministers were among MPs unhappy with Ms May’s leadership in private – and five former Cabinet members want her to fall on her sword, he added.
In one interview, asked if he has spoken to Cabinet members who want the Prime Minister to resign, Mr Shapps replied: “Yes.”
The plotters – thought to number about 30 - had intended to go to Ms May “privately” to persuade her to stand down, but Mr Shapps accused Tory whips of leaking his name to a newspaper, as an organiser.
The whips had “pleaded” with him not to go public before the Conservative party conference, which he had agreed not to do.
Mr Shapps said the MPs wanting the Prime Minister to resign did not agree on a replacement, which should be a choice for the Tory faithful.
“This is not about promoting an individual. It’s about having a proper and full leadership election and that should go out to party members as well,” he said.
The rebels hope to gather extra names over the weekend, but are still someway short of the 48 required to trigger a vote of confidence in Ms May’s leadership.
The Prime Minister will be encouraged by the most senior Cabinet ministers rallying behind her – in public at least.
Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, paid tribute to Ms May’s “guts and grace” and said she must press on with her social justice agenda, adding: “She should stay.”
Damian Green, the effective Deputy Prime Minister ridiculed any suggestion she should quit over the fiasco of her conference speech.
“The idea that, because somebody gets a cold when they’re at the work, that that somehow renders them the wrong person for the job, or that because some unfunny pillock pulls a practical joke that that is in any way an important political event, is complete nonsense,” he said.
And Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary insisted the whole Cabinet and the “overwhelming majority” of Tory members “want the Prime Minister to focus on the job that 14m people elected her to do earlier this year”.
Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, said No 10 would be “delighted” that Mr Shapps has been revealed as the ringleader because he “does not have a following in the party”.
“I think this is now going to fizzle out to be perfectly honest,” Mr Walker predicted.
The comment reflects the view that most Conservative MPs are - for now - reluctant to strike, for fear a bitter leadership battle, with no obvious replacement in the wings, will strengthen Jeremy Corbyn and make the case for another election.
Most are also desperate not to put the process of EU withdrawal in peril, with hardline Brexiteers most keen to bolster Ms May, still believing she is the best bet to deliver it.
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