Former Tory chairman Grant Shapps has broken cover to confirm he’s leading moves to oust Theresa May.
Shapps admitted that he is one of five former Cabinet ministers among more than 30 Tory MPs who want the Prime Minister to step down.
He said that MPs were “perfectly within their rights” to ask May to quit and said she should “take responsibility” for calling the snap general election and losing her Commons majority.
“We did have a result that was not at all what anyone wanted, least of all what she wanted or anticipated, and... sometimes when things happen you have to take responsibility for them,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“This is a view I have held for quite some time and quite a lot of colleagues feel the same way, including five former cabinet ministers. I think she should call a leadership election. The writing is on the wall.”
Shapps, who has told HuffPost UK that he has made no secret of his intentions to Downing Street, confirmed his role in the plot after the Times newspaper reported he was the man organising the rebellion.
A raft of Cabinet ministers and senior backbenchers have come out to defend May after her Tory conference speech was derailed by a failing voice, a prank protest and a collapsing backdrop.
But despite the rearguard action, one MP texted the Government Chief Whip on Thursday evening to say May “needs to go and go now”, HuffPost UK revealed.
Some 48 MPs are needed to formally trigger a confidence vote in the Tory leader, but Shapps hopes that she will resign after an informal approach from MPs who worry she is damaging the party’s chances of re-election.
Shapps told Radio Four’s Today Programme that Number 10 had known for a while he was leading the rebels and phoned him before the conference, “pleading” with him not to say anything.
He also said he had only stepped forward because the party whips briefed The Times that he was leading the rebellion.
He confirmed he had spoken to serving Cabinet ministers but would not say how many. He repeated that five former ministers were on his side.
Shapps later told Sky News “one or two” Cabinet ministers agreed May should resign.
He told Today he wanted to oust the prime minister by applying private pressure to “avoid embarrassment”. “I’m very sorry the whips have not made that possible,” he said.
Shapps added that May’s disastrous conference speech meant that “some colleagues feel it would be better to have that leadership election sooner or rather later”.
“There’s nothing wrong or illegitimate in saying we can do better than this,” he said.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who ran in last year’s leadership contest, told Today he had not had any messages from any ministers agreeing with Shapps.
He said May should remain prime minister “as long as she wants”.
“The prime minister’s been doing a fantastic job. She showed an amazing degree of resilience and courage this week,” he said.
“The truth is that the overwhelming majority of Conservative MPs, the entirety of the Cabinet, the overwhelming majority of people want the prime minister to concentrate on doing the job which 14 million people elected her to do.
“It would be disrespectful to those people to do anything other than concentrate on those areas where action is necessary.”
Business Minister Margot James hit out at the plotters, declaring they were embittered individuals.
She told BBC2′s Newsnight: “There are some ex-cabinet ministers or ex-ministers who are extremely embittered individuals who just want to get their own back – on the fact that they don’t feel recognised and, you know, life is full of that, you have to move on, keep going and disregard it. That would be my advice to the Prime Minister.”
May’s de facto deputy Damian Green said it was “nonsense” to suggest she should go over conference speech, adding that the prankster who presented her with a fake P45 was “a pillock”.
The First Secretary of State told BBC One’s Question Time: “I know that she is as determined as ever to get on with her job - she sees it as her duty to do so. She will carry on and she will make a success of this government.”
HuffPost UK revealed that if she refuses to resign before the weekend, the plotters are prepared for a “slow and gradual” process to remove her and have been taking tips from those who took months to oust Iain Duncan Smith as Tory leader in 2003.
The PM was at home with husband Philip on a rare “day off” in her Maidenhead constituency on Thursday, and MPs keen on her resignation were hoping that Mr May could play a key role in persuading her to give up.
One former minister told HuffPost UK that some hoped the PM’s husband would play a key role this weekend, but added that he and fellow critics were prepared to wait months to build enough numbers to persuade her privately to leave office.
“I think Philip might in these circumstances say ‘darling, let’s not do this anymore’. But on balance that’s unlikely and she will need a further shove.”
The last 24 hours had “moved the dial” against her, one rebel said, adding the idea she could remain in Downing Street until Brexit takes place in 2019 was “laughable”.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the Telegraph: “We, Theresa May’s government, want to... set out a better path, one that actually leads to a prosperous, secure and united country. We can do that and we will under her leadership. She should stay.”
Former minister Ed Vaizey was the first to go public on Thursday, telling BBC Oxford: “I think there will be quite a few people who will now be pretty firmly of the view that she should resign.”