THE ‘COUP’ COL­LAPSES

Key Boris ally in foul- mouthed texts to MPs to end ‘ witch- hunt’ But they turn on HIM and say: But YOU led botched coup against PM

The Mail on Sunday - - News - By Glen Owen PO­LIT­I­CAL COR­RE­SPON­DENT

BIT­TER Tory re­crim­i­na­tions over the at­tempted coup against Theresa May have spilled into the open in lurid pri­vate mes­sages seen by The Mail on Sun­day.

Dur­ing the fu­ri­ous ex­changes be­tween Tory MPs, a key Boris John­son ally called for an end to the ‘witch-hunt’ and urged his col­leagues not to be ‘w*****s’.

The re­marks by James Clev­erly came as rebel MPs claimed that the Brain­tree MP had him­self been one of the plot­ters – de­spite de­fend­ing Mrs May in the me­dia last week.

The at­tempted coup by for­mer Tory chair­man Grant Shapps was flushed out by party Whips last week in the wake of Mrs May’s calami­tous party con­fer­ence speech in Manch­ester.

Mr Shapps ad­mit­ted col­lect­ing more than 30 names of MPs who want Mrs May to quit – short of the 48 re­quired to trig­ger a lead­er­ship con­test.

In his re­marks on the What­sApp mes­sag­ing ser­vice, Mr Clev­erly called on his col­leagues to stop mak­ing ac­cu­sa­tions – and de­scribed it as ‘po­lit­i­cal mas­tur­ba­tion’. Mr Clev­erly ex­plained: ‘It might feel nice for the per­son do­ing it [but] it’s re­ally dis­taste­ful for ev­ery­one who is forced to watch and it achieves noth­ing other than a bit of a mess. So, please. Let’s not be w*****s!’

In re­sponse, Sutton and Cheam’s Paul Scully said: ‘I need mind bleach’, while Rochford’s James Dud­dridge re­buked Mr Clev­erly by say­ing: ‘Far to [ sic] graphic, Clev­erly.’ This prompted Mid-Bed­ford­shire’s Na­dine Dor­ries to ac­cuse Mr Dud­dridge of be­ing a plot­ter, say­ing: ‘Per­haps you can deny that is the case while you are here.’

When she did not get a re­sponse from Mr Dud­dridge, Ms Dor­ries per­sisted: ‘You read my mes­sage three min­utes ago – how long does it take you to type “not true”.’

Mr Dud­dridge stayed silent but Mr Clev­erly in­ter­vened to say: ‘How about we don’t do witch­hunt stuff on here.’ Un­daunted, Ms Dor­ries names two more MPs she be­lieves to be among the plot­ters – Brom­ley’s Bob Neill and for­mer En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Owen Pater­son.

Portsmouth North’s Penny Mor­daunt then tries to calm tem­pers ahead of the re­turn of the Com­mons to­mor­row, by say­ing: ‘Col­leagues, we will all be in the trenches again next week, in­clud­ing those on GS’s list… let the Boss [Theresa May] know how well she is sup­ported.’

How­ever, the bit­ter­ness showed no sign of abat­ing last night af­ter a se­nior rebel source claimed that Mr Clev­erly had been one of the early plot­ters – only aban­don­ing it af­ter be­ing ‘bought off ’ by No 10 with a Gov­ern­ment job – he is a Com­mons aide to Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Bran­don Lewis. Mr Clev­erly de­nies the ac­cu­sa­tion.

The source said: ‘The rea­son Clev­erly doesn’t want a witch-hunt is be­cause he was in­volved in the plot im­me­di­ately af­ter the Elec­tion. He told col­leagues that Theresa had to go and dis­cussed lists. He only pulled out when Down­ing Street got wind of it and gave him a job.’

Af­ter the Shapps plot was ex­posed last week, Mr Clev­erly had leapt to Mrs May’s de­fence, say­ing: ‘I’ve al­ways liked Grant Shapps but he re­ally is do­ing him­self, the party and, most im­por­tantly, the coun­try no favours at all. Just stop.’

Mr Shapps started to col­lect the names of MPs in the im­me­di­ate aftermath of Mrs May’s snap Elec­tion dis­as­ter, which led to the loss of her Com­mons ma­jor­ity. The 49year- old Wel­wyn Hat­field MP em­ployed five ‘run­ners’ – MPs who toured the Com­mons tea rooms to ask col­leagues if they wanted to add their names to a list of rebels.

By the time MPs had re­turned from their sum­mer break for the two-week Com­mons sit­ting in Septem­ber, the num­ber of MPs on the list had risen from around 15 names to closer to 30.

They are un­der­stood to in­clude for­mer Brexit Min­is­ter David Jones and the for­mer Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Nicky Mor­gan.

One of t hose MPs that Mr Shapps is known to have swapped notes with is the for­mer In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tary An­drew Mitchell, who is a prom­i­nent ally of Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis. In July, The Mail on Sun­day re­ported how for­mer Cab­i­net Min­is­ter Mr Mitchell had told a se­cret Com­mons din­ner that the party needed change at the top. Mr Mitchell said Mrs May was ‘weak, had lost her au­thor­ity, couldn’t go on and we need a new leader’. Pub­licly, Mr Davis has said it would be a ‘catas­tro­phe’ if Mrs May stepped down, al­though he has not ruled out stand­ing for the lead­er­ship if she quits. Mr Mitchell has told col­leagues that he be­lieves nearly 50 MPs want Mrs May to leave – al­though Mr Shapps is un­der­stood to think that the fig­ure is too high, be­cause Mitchell ‘ticks a yes’ too eas­ily. Mr Mitchell was t he guest speaker at Mr Shapps’s an­nual Tory as­so­ci­a­tion din­ner on Fri­day evening, al­though friends

‘James only pulled out when Down­ing Street gave him a job’

said that their con­ver­sa­tion was re­stricted to what a ‘long day’ they had had.

Mr Mitchell has been sup­port­ive of Mrs May since her con­fer­ence dis­as­ter, putting out a state­ment say­ing he had ‘ re­spect’ for her, adding: ‘It took courage of a high or­der to com­plete what was an im­por­tant and in­ter­est­ing speech in im­pos­si­ble cir­cum­stances.’

Mr Shapps has told friends that al­though his plot has not yet suc­ceeded, he has been con­sult­ing col­leagues in­volved in the move to top­ple Iain Duncan Smith in 2003, which took sev­eral weeks to reach fruition af­ter a sim­i­larly dis­mal party con­fer­ence.

Key to Mr Shapps swelling his num­bers be­yond 30 is per­suad­ing more pro-Brexit MPs to join, which could hap­pen if they are dis­ap­pointed by compromises which the Prime Min­is­ter makes in the Brus­sels ne­go­ti­a­tions.

When asked if it was true that he had been a plot­ter, Mr Clev­erly said last night: ‘How fas­ci­nat­ing. Some peo­ple ob­vi­ously don’t know their a*** from their el­bow. It is not true.’

Mr Dud­dridge, Mr Neill and Mr Pater­son all deny be­ing on Mr Shapps’s list.

One rebel MP said: ‘Those of us who want to see a change of lead­er­ship and dare not raise their heads in the What­sApp group for fear of it be­ing blown off are stunned by what amounts to cy­ber-bul­ly­ing.’

An­other said: ‘ Its a bit rich of Na­dine to de­mand loy­alty, given the lengths to which she went to un­der­mine David Cameron.’

AL­LIES: James Clev­erly with Boris John­son

AT­TEMPTED COUP: MP Grant Shapps

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