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Theresa May repeats vow to fight leadership challenge amid Tory coup talk

Sky News logo Sky News 12/09/2018
Theresa May © PA Theresa May

Theresa May has repeated her vow to fight any challenge to her leadership after Tory MPs met to openly discuss her future.

The prime minister is facing further pressure over her occupancy of Number 10 after group of about 50 Conservative backbenchers met on Tuesday night.

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The gathering was characterised as an "open revolt" amid continuing anger at Mrs May's Chequers plan for Brexit. 

Downing Street reiterated on Wednesday that the prime minister would fight a Tory leadership election if it comes, but declined to issue a message to any Conservative plotters.

Mrs May was earlier bolstered by support from leading Brexiteers who, despite their criticism of her Chequers proposals, gave their backing for the prime minister remaining in place.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory eurosceptics, described Mrs May as "fantastically dutiful".

"I have long said, and repeated again and again, that the policy needs to be changed but I am supporting the person," he said.

"Theresa May has enormous virtues, she is a fantastically dutiful Prime Minister and she has my support.

"I just want her to change one item of policy."

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa Mayy arrives at Downing Street in London, September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay © Reuters Britain's Prime Minister Theresa Mayy arrives at Downing Street in London, September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay Meanwhile former Brexit secretary David Davis, who quit the government in July in protest at the Chequers plan, insisted Mrs May should continue in Number 10.

Appearing at an event where the ERG published their own post-Brexit plan for the Irish border, Mr Davis said: "I have made very plain from when I resigned and thereafter that I think we have got a very good Prime Minister and, like Jacob, I disagree with her on one issue - this issue.

"She should stay in place because we need stability and we need decent government as the backdrop to what we are doing in the coming six months."

Iain Duncan Smith, who was the last Tory leader to face a confidence vote, claimed Mrs May was in "completely different circumstances" compared to his own ousting by Conservative MPs in 2003.

He told Sky News how neither himself, Mr Rees-Mogg, Mr Davis or other senior Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson or Sir Bernard Jenkin were not present at Tuesday's gathering, while former Brexit minister Steve Baker was "only chairing the meeting".

"There are a few that got up and started mouthing off and talking, whatever, but that was shut down," Mr Duncan Smith said.

He added: "There's nothing new about this, you could have reported this three months ago and four months ago.

The same people are saying the same things. "What I'm simply saying is, right now, the issue isn't about her.

She's prime minister, she's safe, they do not want to make a change - I'm utterly opposed to that as are pretty much the vast majority of the party.

"What is important is the arrangements around what we do when we leave [the EU]."

An anti-Brexit demonstrator waves flags outside the Houses of Parliament, in London, Britain, September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay © Reuters An anti-Brexit demonstrator waves flags outside the Houses of Parliament, in London, Britain, September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay Environment Secretary Michael Gove also offered Mrs May backing from within her cabinet, telling MPs: "Theresa is our leader and I think she's doing a great job." 

Fresh speculation over Mrs May's position was fuelled after one MP present at Tuesday night's meeting suggested they would be "shocked" if a vote of confidence in the prime minister did not occur after the Tory party conference later this month.

Government ministers were also claimed to have confided to ERG members that Mrs May "has to go".

After a dinner with senior Downing Street aides on Tuesday night, Tory MP Andrew Bridgen - a regular critic of the prime minister - was asked by ITV News whether there would be a coup.

"I think we will just have to wait and see," he replied.

His fellow Brexiteer John Baron revealed "leadership issues" were discussed at the same dinner.


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