LONDON — Theresa May has been told by powerful backbench MPs that she has their backing to sack cabinet ministers if they are disloyal as her position as prime minister comes under growing scrutiny.
Charles Walker, a vice-chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 committee, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One on Wednesday: “If the prime minister has to start removing secretaries of state because they are not focusing on their job, they are focusing on their own personal ambitions, so be it, and she will have the support of the 1922 committee.”
The move to reinforce May’s premiership comes after a week of leaks from inside the cabinet, including briefings against Chancellor Philip Hammond.
Hammond has accused pro-Leave ministers of trying to derail his plan for a softer Brexit by leaking comments he made in a Cabinet meeting to the press. It was reported over the weekend he said that public sector workers are overpaid. “I think on many fronts it would be helpful if my colleagues, all of us, focused on the job in hand,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday.
On Monday, the prime minister’s spokesman said that May would urge cabinet members to stop leaking to newspapers and concentrate on “delivering for the British people instead” and on Tuesday said that the prime minister had accused her cabinet of “not taking their responsibilities seriously.”
The chairman of the 1922 committee, Graham Brady, told the Guardian the party was “clear that it is supporting Theresa May and there is no intention of holding a leadership election, which would be a huge distraction from the important job of government.
“Colleagues on the backbenches are keen that the whole party should work together to serve the public interest,” he added.
Letters of no confidence have reportedly been circulating among Conservative MPs, which could trigger a leadership election if enough are signed and submitted. While there are not many signatures so far, this number is reportedly expected to rise as soon as Parliament returns in September after the summer recess.
Walker said: “There are a few outliers, but the vast majority of members of parliament wish to see Theresa May continue as prime minister and get on with the job and are hoping that secretaries of state who have important jobs to do focus on their jobs, and not talking to you journalists.”
Walker also said that the former Conservative deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine should “shut up as well” after he said on Tuesday that party divisions would get worse.
Heseltine told Sky’s All Out Politics: “There is an irreconcilable division within the cabinet, within the party and within the country. And there is nothing you can do but face up to that. It is damaging, yes. It could help Mr Corbyn into Number 10, yes. But that is the nature of the divisiveness of the disastrous Brexit decision.”
The defence secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, has called for military discipline amongst the cabinet in order to confront the “dangerous enemy” of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
At the summer reception of think tank Policy Exchange, Fallon said: “In this summer of warm prosecco I think we in the Cabinet would also do well to reflect on those military virtues: loyalty, discipline, cohesion, that might better enable us first to concentrate our fire on a dangerous enemy in reach of Downing Street.”
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