A piece in today’s Sunday Times by Tim Shipman, Political Editor:
A Tory rising star today issues a call to arms for MPs to oust Theresa May, saying Britain cannot be led by someone guilty of an “abject failure to govern” at such a defining moment in our history.
Writing in The Sunday Times, Johnny Mercer says he “cannot continue to support an administration that cannot function” on issues from Brexit to the Grenfell Tower disaster and the Windrush scandal.
He spoke out as numerous Tory MPs said May was on course to face a vote of no confidence this week as all wings of the party united against her.
An ally of David Davis, the former Brexit secretary who is tipped as an interim leader, said May was entering “the killing zone”. One who hopes to succeed added: “Assassination is in the air.”
The prime minister has been summoned to plead for her job before the back-bench 1922 committee on Wednesday — a process dubbed “a show trial” by one Tory.
She is now under attack from her MPs on five fronts as it was claimed that:
● Up to 46 MPs have sent a letter demanding a contest, two short of the number needed
● A “handful” of cabinet members would vote against May in a secret ballot
● Organisers of the People’s Vote march are talking to 50 Tories, including five frontbenchers, who might back a second referendum
● Allies of Davis are encouraging the coup and have sounded out Boris Johnson’s friends to see if the former foreign secretary would stand aside
● Brexit secretary Dominic Raab is expected to use a BBC interview today to insist that May cannot sign up to membership of a customs union without an end date.
Mercer’s intervention is significant because it reveals how mainstream Conservatives have joined hardline Brexiteers in opposing the prime minister.
The former army officer revealed that he has received “overwhelming” messages of support from ministers and MPs after branding the government “a shitshow” last week. Today he attacks what he calls an “abject failure of this government to govern, to lead”, condemning May’s cautious managerial approach.
“I cannot continue to support an administration that cannot function,” he writes.
Mercer does not mention May by name, but argues that modern leadership “requires courage, fight and conviction”, before adding: “We need technocrats and managers . . . but at this defining moment in our history, Britain cannot be led by them.”
A cabinet minister warned that May was “endangering her own government” by refusing to take a different approach to Brexit. “This is the first time I’ve thought it could fall over,” the minister said. “She’s not listening. That’s kamikaze.”
The immediate threat is from supporters of Davis and Johnson. MPs say Davis’s allies have urged them to put in letters of no confidence. One said: “I got a text saying that history would never forgive me if we let her stay in power.”
That comes after Stewart Jackson, Davis’s former chief of staff, last week predicted May “will surely be removed from office” unless her approach to Brexit changes.
A former cabinet minister who also backs Davis compared the prime minister’s performance on Brexit to the appeasement of the Nazis: “There is a view that the party would be regarded as irresponsible to replace her now, but we did turf out Chamberlain in 1940.”
If a vote is triggered, Downing Street aides are planning to lean on Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee, to delay a vote for several weeks to give May time to secure a deal with Brussels.
MPs claim that Brady has urged MPs who approach him to hand in a letter to think of the consequences of ousting the prime minister.
In a further headache for May, the former Brexit minister Steve Baker yesterday tabled a series of amendments to the Northern Ireland bill, which is due in the Commons this week.
They would enshrine in law pledges by the prime minister that the Brexit deal would not introduce any new regulatory barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland without explicit consent from the latter. If passed, they would render illegal the EU’s planned Brexit backstop plan.
The Sunday Times can also reveal that Conor Burns, Johnson’s former parliamentary aide, threatened to demand May’s head in an extraordinary showdown with JoJo Penn, the prime minister’s deputy chief of staff, on Tuesday.
David Canzini, who works for Sir Lynton Crosby, the election strategist expected to run Johnson’s leadership campaign, was also contacting MPs last week about whether they were putting in letters.
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