The Conservative Government will face a general election in about two years’ time, former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine has predicted.
And the Conservative peer warned that by this point, Theresa May’s administration will be “torn apart by leadership speculation and the growing clarity of our weakness in the Brexit talks”.
Writing in The Times, he warned that a shift in public mood on Brexit could leave the Conservatives “holding the baby” as the electorate demands continued EU membership.
It should be “alarming” to the Tory leadership that young people joining the electoral roll each year could be worth 1,000 extra votes against Brexit in every constituency, he said.
Downing Street declined to respond to Lord Heseltine’s comments, which come after reports that 15 Conservative MPs may be ready to sign a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister - well short of the 48 required to trigger a leadership contest.
Meanwhile, Mrs May was given strong backing by the secretary of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, who said she would have the support of MPs and peers if she chose to sack Cabinet members who leaked against her.
Nigel Evans said the “men in grey suits” had told the PM that it was “time perhaps for them to go if they carry on with their antics”.
And he told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “It’s not just Tory backbenchers who’ve been coming up to me and saying we’ve had enough of this... People back in my constituency say this should not happen. I spoke to the Association of Conservative Peers the other day and they said `Please tell Theresa May she has our support as well’.
“So we’ll back the Prime Minister and if they carry on doing some of the stupid things they’ve been doing, she can get rid of them with the authority of the ‘22.”
Describing the May Government as “a rabbit frozen in the spotlight”, Lord Heseltine said that the party’s prospects at the next election depend on its ability to “refocus the agenda and govern”, with a programme of increased devolution and reforms to education, housing, local government and skills.
He predicted there would be a window of opportunity following autumn’s elections in Germany for a “re-examination” of the EU’s free movement rules, and said the UK should concentrate on reducing immigration from outside Europe, by intensified policing of the Mediterranean routes and a Marshall Aid-style programme to improve living standards in migrants’ home countries.
“I believe the Government faces an election in about two years, which suits the self-interest of all the opposition parties,” wrote Lord Heseltine. “The mid-term blues and Brexit will by then change the public’s anti-election mood.
“The Government will be torn apart by leadership speculation and the growing clarity of our weakness in the Brexit talks.”
And he warned: “If, as I anticipate, public opinion on Europe moves against Brexit, be sure Labour will change with it.
“We could be left holding the baby. It will be too late to recognise the danger when the vote of confidence is called.”
Veteran Tory backbencher Michael Fabricant said that the party should unite behind Mrs May, even though she “f***** up” the General Election.
In response to a tweet from a constituent calling for unity behind Mrs May, the Lichfield MP replied: “She f***** up GE2017, but that does not mean she does not do a great job as PM with a clear vision for Brexit. I agree with you.”
The former whip said there were always “a dozen or so disgruntled MPs ready to sign a letter against any PM”.