Theresa May’s leadership under growing pressure as Tory MPs meet over plot to oust her

Theresa May’s leadership is under increasing pressure after dozens of Conservative MPs have met privately to plot ways to oust her.

About 50 MPs discussed ways and means of getting rid of the Prime Minister at a gathering of the European Research Group (ERG), according to reports on Tuesday night.

A number of them are believed to have told how they had already submitted letters of no confidence, while others discussed plans to follow suit.

It comes after former foreign secretary Boris Johnson launched a fresh attack on Mrs May’s Brexit plan, claiming it would be “substantially worse than the status quo” for British businesses.

At a separate meeting with the Prime Minister’s senior aides, MPs raised “leadership issues”.

Backbenchers told the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, his boss must “chuck Chequers” over the dinner at No 10.

Speaking after the dinner, Tory MP Andrew Bridgen did not deny suggestions the Prime Minister would face a coup.

He told ITV News: “I’ve been told that she will get a full appraisal of comments that were made over the dinner.”

Asked if there would be a coup, he replied: “I think we will just have to wait and see.

“I hope that the Prime Minister will take on board what she’s heard and chuck Chequers.”

Conservative Brexiteer John Baron told ITV: “We were discussing leadership issues.”

ITV also quoted an anonymous source from the meeting as saying: “We’ve just had an ERG mass meeting, 50 odd MPs present, where virtually the only topic of conversation for 40/50 mins was: how best do we get rid of her? What’s the best way to use our letters?

“Comments included: ‘Everyone I know says she has to go’, ‘she’s a disaster’, and ‘this can’t go on.’”

Downing Street on Tuesday reiterated that Chequers was “the only serious, credible and negotiable plan which is on the table which both delivers on the will of the British people and which prevents the imposition of a hard border in Northern Ireland”.

Mrs May’s government has repeatedly said that there will be no second referendum on the final deal, and that Chequers would be the “only deal” put forward to Brussels.

Mr Johnson spoke at an Economists for Free Trade (EFT) event on Tuesday attended by a battalion of Tory Brexit big-hitters including Jacob-Rees Mogg, former Brexit secretary David Davis and his ex-deputy Steve Baker, former party leader Iain Duncan Smith and ex-Defra Secretary Owen Paterson.

The ex-minister declined to answer questions from journalists but used a Q&A session at the end of the report launch to make a statement himself.

He said leaving the EU while continuing to accept the single market legislation would expose businesses to rules that may go against their interests.

“That seems to me to be a particular economic risk in Chequers and makes it substantially worse than the status quo,” he said.

Mr Johnson, who has this week been at the centre of gossip about his divorce from wife Marina Wheeler and alleged relationship with former Tory communications director Carrie Symonds, resigned from his post as Foreign Secretary over the Chequers deal and rumours resurfaced on Friday that he was planning a leadership bid.

Critics in the House warned on Tuesday that the Chequers deal will have the opposite effect on British sovereignty than desired.

Tory MP Sir William Cash said: “The implementation of EU law will continue after the implementation” period he warned, such as in relation to pending cases, by maintaining parts of the European Communities Act, and with continuing participation of EU agencies.”

The member for Stone Staffordshire added: “We’re not actually going to be in a position to do anything about it at all. In effect, we’re not merely buying a pig in a poke, we are being bound and shackled by European law.”

A 200,000-signature e-petition to scrap Brexit over Vote Leave’s breaching of electoral rules was discussed in Whitehall yesterday, where Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP said: “said: “Cheating in elections or allegations of such are not new and not rare.”

“Of course we were cheated, the whole thing has been a nonsense and we should stay in the European Union,” he added.

“The leave campaign was supposed to be bringing control back to this parliament, which they are now treating with contempt and disdain. The sheer hypocrisy. How dare they wave the union jack when they so disrespect basic British values?”