Theresa May today refused to stand down despite mounting pressure, claiming it is business as usual.
The embattled prime minister told reporters at an event in her Maidenhead constituency: “What the country needs is calm leadership and that is what I am providing, with the full support of my cabinet.”
May’s defiant message comes after Tory chairman Grant Shapps revealed on Friday morning he was leading a plot to oust her.
Shapps said he was one of five former Cabinet ministers among more than 30 Tory MPs who 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.
Shapps later 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, and that 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.
A raft of Cabinet ministers and senior backbenchers came forward to defend May after her speech on Wednesday, which was marred by a persistent cough, a prank protest and a collapsing backdrop.
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.
And on Friday Sky News revealed the PM had postponed a planned trip to China because Beijing had decided to “prioritise a visit from President Trump”.
But making clear she intended to pursue business as usual, May said she had “had a cold all week”, and planned to update Parliament next week on progress since her Brexit speech in Florence and plans announced in her address to conference to introduce an energy price cap.
The intervention, made from a fundraising event in Kent on Friday, could mean rebels will now face a longer fight to depose her.
In order to trigger an official confidence vote through the party’s 1922 Committee of backbenchers, 48 MPs would need to formally say she should stand down.
And while he would not give an exact figure on those who were backing his intervention, Shapps admitted it was less than the number needed.
Chelmsford MP Vicky Ford told the BBC Shapps was “completely out of touch” with the vast majority of MPs and Tory members.
“Furthermore, I do not think it’s what the public want. They want us to get on with the job...stick together and act as a team,” she added.
In a jibe at both Shapps and an election campaign blunder by Labour’s shadow home secretary, Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire, told Sky News: “If Grant Shapps has 30 names then Diane Abbott is doing the counting.”
Other backbenchers used social media to disparage the Shapps “plot” and make it clear they were behind the prime minister.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who ran in last year’s leadership contest, 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 on Friday morning.
“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.”
Events which could now force the PM’s hand include mass cabinet resignations - after her claim she has their full suppport - and longer term, poor performances for Conservative candidates in next year’s local elections.
Evening Standard editor and former chanceller George Osborne effectively used his paper’s editorial to claim the “clock is ticking” on May’s departure and that her best option was to set her own timetable.
“Behind it all lies the simple fact: Mrs May called an election four months ago to increase her majority and her authority, and instead she lost both,” it read.
“Almost everyone in the cabinet and the parliamentary party agrees she cannot possibly fight the next election. That makes her position much weaker than either John Major’s or Gordon Brown’s.
“Bluntly, there are three possible futures Mrs May now faces. She can decide she’s had enough and quit this autumn...but history suggests that party leaders, let alone prime ministers, rarely jump before they are pushed — David Cameron was the recent exception.
“The second possible future is the one unfolding now: a bloody series of attempted coups, protestations of loyalty and bitter recriminations that ultimately leads to her exit.
“The third possible future is that Mrs May attempts to regain some control over her government by setting the timetable for her own departure.”