British PM May faces plot to topple her, former party chairman says

Reuters , Friday 6 Oct 2017

Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister, Theresa May, addresses delegates during a speech at the Conservative Party Conference at Manchester Central, in Manchester, England, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 (Photo: AP)

British Prime Minister Theresa May should quit to save the Conservative Party from losing the next election and 30 of her lawmakers back a plot to topple her, a former chairman of her party said on Friday.

Just as Britain enters a crucial stage in Brexit talks with the European Union, May is now facing an open rebellion by some of her own lawmakers who say her authority is shattered after her disastrous speech to the party conference on Wednesday.

Senior ministers rallied around May, saying she should continue as prime minister as Britain was at such a critical juncture. There is no obvious successor visible in the party who could unite it over Brexit.

But former party chairman Grant Shapps told BBC radio: "I think she should call a leadership election."

After May's bungled election, her failure to unite the cabinet and a poor party conference "the writing is on the wall," he said.

May's authority was already diminished by her decision to call a snap election in June that lost her party its majority in parliament days before Brexit talks opened.

Though no Conservative ministers have publicly indicated any support for the plot, such a blunt demand for May to quit indicates the extent of her weakness while she attempts to navigate the intricacies of the negotiations to leave the EU.

Her survival has so far been dependent on the absence of an obvious successor who could unite the party and the fear of an election that many Conservatives think would let opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn into power.

Sterling slipped to its lowest against the dollar in a month on Friday. The pound fell to as low as $1.3060 in morning trade in London, its weakest since Sept. 7 and down almost half a percent on the day.

Serious plot 

May has not been photographed in public since she left the conference hall where on Wednesday her speech to activists was ruined by coughing fits, a comedian handing her a bogus employment termination notice and by letters falling off the slogans on the set behind her.

She had hoped to use the speech to her party in the northern English city of Manchester to revive her premiership.

Shapps, who chaired the party between 2012 and 2015, said the plot existed before this week's party conference and included both supporters and opponents of Brexit. He said the group did not have a unified view on who should replace May.

To trigger a formal leadership challenge, 48 Conservative lawmakers need to write to the chairman of the party's so-called 1922 committee.

"Number 10 must be delighted to learn that it's Grant Shapps leading this alleged coup," Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the 1922 committee, told BBC radio.

"Grant has many talents, but one thing he doesn't have is a following in the party, so really I think this is now just going to fizzle out to be perfectly honest."

If May stays, talks on leaving the European Union will be guided by one of the weakest leaders in recent British history. EU diplomats and officials expressed astonishment about the uncertainty in London.

"She should stay"

Supporters, including her most senior ministers, said she should remain in charge to deliver Brexit.

Under the headline 'Theresa May will stay as Prime Minister and get the job done,' interior minister Amber Rudd wrote in The Telegraph newspaper that "she should stay". May's de facto deputy Damian Green said she would carry on. Environment Secretary Michael Gove also said he hoped she would continue.

"I know that she is as determined as ever to get on with the job, she sees it as her duty to do so and she will carry on and she will make a success of this government," Green, the first secretary of state, told BBC television.

Many Conservative activists fear a leadership contest would exacerbate the divide in the party over Europe, an issue that helped sink the previous three Conservative prime ministers - David Cameron, John Major and Margaret Thatcher.

A leadership contest could also pave the way for an election that some Conservatives worry could be won by Corbyn, whom they cast as a Marxist who would reverse decades of free market policies.

"The Conservatives have no plan for Britain and their posturing will not deliver the change our country is crying out for," Corbyn said on Friday. 

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