Tory MP warns May her days may be numbered after mishap-strewn speech

Prime Minister Theresa May's speech at the conference was filled with mishaps. Picture: PA
Prime Minister Theresa May's speech at the conference was filled with mishaps. Picture: PA
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The Conservatives have been plunged into renewed turmoil amid warnings that rebel MPs are preparing an attempt to force Theresa May to quit following her chaotic party conference speech.

Last night critics of the Prime Minister were said to be attempting to “drum up” a delegation of around 30 MPs to tell her she has lost support and must resign.

• READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon compares Theresa May speech to Fawlty Towers

The Conservatives have been plunged into renewed turmoil amid warnings that rebel MPs are preparing an attempt to force Theresa May to quit following her chaotic party conference speech.

Last night critics of the Prime Minister were said to be attempting to “drum up” a delegation of around 30 MPs to tell her she has lost support and must resign.

• READ MORE: Watch Lee Nelson hand Theresa May P45 during keynote speech

The move provoked a furious response from loyalists who accused the rebels of a “cowardly” attempt to bypass the party rule book on mounting a leadership challenge.

However, one former minister broke cover to warn there were now “quite a few” in the party who were “pretty firmly” of the view that Mrs May should go.

Ed Vaizey, who was sacked by Mrs May when she became Prime Minister, said he found it “increasingly difficult” to see a way forward under her ­leadership.

Behind the scenes, senior Conservatives insisted most MPs still believed she should carry on for the sake of the party in the face of the threat from a resurgent Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

However, there was said to be growing pressure for a Cabinet reshuffle among loyalists angry at the repeated challenges to her authority by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

The already febrile mood was heightened by Mrs May’s conference address in Manchester when a prankster managed to hand her a fake P45, part of the stage set fell down, and she struggled with a persistent cough.

Previously, critics on the backbenches had been reluctant to go public, but Mr Vaizey told BBC Oxford: “I think there will be quite a few people who will now be pretty firmly of the view that she should resign.

“The conference was a great opportunity to reboot the party and therefore the country to give it a clear sense of direction, and that didn’t happen.

“So, yes, I am concerned. I am finding it increasingly difficult to see a way forward at the moment, and it worries me.”

Under party rules, 48 MPs would need to write to the party’s backbench 1922 Committee expressing no confidence in Mrs May to trigger a leadership contest.

But with the rebels apparently lacking the support for a formal challenge, loyalist backbencher Mark Pritchard warned against any attempt to sidestep the normal processes.

“Trying to drum up a delegation of 30 MPs to try and circumvent this process is irregular, cowardly and will ultimately fail,” he said.

“Any minister with premature ambitions needs to put up or shut up and allow the Prime Minister to get on with her day job.”

Charles Walker, the vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee, said support for Mrs May was still strong on the backbenches.

“Most colleagues that I talk to are right behind the Prime Minister and think she is doing an outstanding job in very, very difficult circumstances,” he said.

He also took an apparent sideswipe at Mr Johnson, saying that members of the Cabinet should be concentrating on their ministerial portfolios.

“I expect them to be getting on with their day job which is going out to bat for the UK,” he said.

Mr Johnson’s parliamentary aide Conor Burns was among the MPs publicly backing the Prime Minister, tweeting: “Theresa May has an important job to do at a critical time for the UK and has my total support in getting on with it.”

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee and a party board member, also voiced his support – but said she needed to reassert her authority.

“What the Prime Minister now has to do is to demonstrate that she’s in charge, she has a vision for where she wants to take this country into Brexit and beyond, and then I think we can move forward with confidence.

“At the moment we, I have to say, are a little bit in limbo after the speech.”

Meanwhile, a European Parliament source said MEPs at a plenary session in Strasbourg were wondering about Mrs May’s future and are concerned about any prospect of Mr Johnson taking over. “They fear it would make a [Brexit] deal even less likely than it is now,” the source said.