Civil war has broken out in the Conservative Party, with the triggering of a no confidence vote in Theresa May sparking a flurry of blue-on-blue attacks.
The prime minister won a fight for her political survival on Wednesday night after backbench rebel MPs launched a bid to topple her.
But her victory has not led to peace and harmony among the true blue ranks. In fact, it led to an extraordinary spate of personal attacks as the febrile atmosphere among sections of the Tory party burst out into the open.
Tory MP Calls Colleague ‘A C**t’ At Bus Stop
Late on Tuesday, as rumours swirled of May’s imminent challenge, Jim Murphy tweeted how he overheard three Tory MPs at a bus stop in London.
The former Scottish Labour leader even claimed to have heard one of the group use the word “c**t”.
“I’m not sure that this Brexit thing is going to end well,” he tweeted.
‘And Jacob Rees-Mogg ... It Won’t Be You’
And when Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the backbench 1922 committee, finally made it public that the all-important 48-letter threshold had been reached, defence minister Tobias Ellwood turned his ire on rebel Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Replying to a tweet that “the country needs a new leader” Ellwood, who backs the PM, accused the chairman of the influential Tory faction the European Research Group (ERG) of “fuelling blue on blue” and of being “disloyal and disruptive”.
He later told the BBC: “I’m content that this pincer movement by the European Research Group (ERG) is going to be found out.
“We are going to have to lance this and recognise there has been a drag anchor on our party for some time.
“They [the ERG] have tried for the second time to thwart the prime minister’s ambitions.
“They should fall in line. Unless they do they should ask themselves if should they be part of the party.”
MP Threatens To Leave Party If Boris Johnson Made PM
South Cambridgeshire MP and Remain-backer Heidi Allen also laid bare the divisions running through the UK’s governing party, as she told reporters she would resign the Tory whip should Vote Leave talisman Boris Johnson seize May’s crown.
“It’s disgraceful,” she said, referring to the rebels threatening May’s premiership. “It’s completely inward-looking. It displays that this is all about their egos and their desire for power.”
When asked how she would feel were the former foreign secretary to become PM, Allen suggested she would leave the party, adding: “I would feel like an independent MP. There’s a lot of us who would do that.”
‘I Gather You Don’t Necessarily Want To Talk To Each Other’
Grantham MP Nick Boles, who also backs May and has been attempting to drive through a soft Brexit, took aim at his Brexiteer colleague Andrew Bridgen.
Bridgen, who submitted a letter calling for the prime minister to be ousted in July, stormed off during a TV interview with the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire.
It is thought he refused to engage in debate with fellow Leave voter and Brexit minister James Cleverly, who has given his backing to May.
“I gather you don’t necessarily want to talk to each other,” said Derbyshire, before Bridgen promptly left.
Boles said Bridgen was a “bellwether” who offers Tories “a good guide to what one should or shouldn’t do”, adding: “In all circumstances, I try to [do] precisely the opposite of what he recommends.”
May will learn her fate late on Wednesday evening after a secret ballot by Tory MPs, which is due to conclude by 8pm.
She told the 1922 committee ahead of the vote that she would stand aside before the next general election, in an apparent last-minute bid to rescue her premiership.
The ERG ‘Ants’ Will Survive Apocalypse, Says Minister
May’s victory did not quell the anger on either side of the debate, it seems.
Foreign office minister Alastair Burt compared the European Research Group band of Tory Eurosceptics to “ants” who would survive armageddon and still be unhappy about Brexit.
Tweeting a video of Rees-Mogg, he said the group would “never, ever stop”, adding: “After the apocalypse, all that will be left will be ants and Tory MPs complaining about Europe and their leader.”
Let’s hope by the time they’re all singing Auld Lang Syne at new year that they find each other more bearable.