May slaps down ‘inap­pro­pri­ate’ Bojo over sui­cide vest... as he seeks new woman (as run­ning mate*)

I’M STILL A BLOODY DIF­FI­CULT WOMAN

The Mail on Sunday - - News - By GLEN OWEN PO­LIT­I­CAL EDITOR

THERESA MAY has bro­ken her si­lence on the spec­u­la­tion swirling around Boris John­son’s po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions – by slap­ping down the for­mer For­eign Sec­re­tary for his blis­ter­ing at­tack on her Che­quers agree­ment.

The Prime Min­is­ter uses a BBC in­ter­view to con­demn Mr John­son for his re­marks in last week’s Mail on Sun­day, when he likened her Brexit plan to a ‘sui­cide vest around the Bri­tish con­sti­tu­tion’.

Mrs May im­plies that Mr John­son’s com­ments, which trig­gered a po­lit­i­cal storm, showed he was un­fit for the high­est of­fice.

‘I have to say that that choice of lan­guage is com­pletely inap­pro­pri­ate,’ she says.

‘I was Home Sec­re­tary for six years and as Prime Min­is­ter for two years now, I think us­ing lan­guage like that was not right and it’s not lan­guage I would have used.’

She also ex­presses her frus­tra­tion at the plot­ting against her on the Tory back­benches. Asked if she would re­as­sure her party that she is not de­ter­mined to go ‘on and on’ as leader, she replies: ‘I get a lit­tle bit ir­ri­tated but this de­bate is not about my fu­ture. This de­bate is about the fu­ture of the peo­ple of the UK and the fu­ture of the United King­dom.’

In the in­ter­view, to be broad­cast to­mor­row night, Mrs May is asked by for­mer BBC po­lit­i­cal editor Nick Robin­son whether she is still the ‘bloody dif­fi­cult woman’ re­ferred to by for­mer Tory Chan­cel­lor Ken Clarke.

She replies that the ‘bloody dif­fi­cult woman’ is ‘ still there’, but ‘there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween those who think you can only be bloody dif­fi­cult in pub­lic, and those who think ac­tu­ally you bide your time, and you’re bloody dif­fi­cult when the time is right – and when it re­ally mat­ters’.

Mrs May’s re­marks come af­ter a week in which Tory MP mem­bers of the Brex­i­teer Euro­pean Re­search Group openly dis­cussed re­mov­ing Mrs May in or­der to kill off her Che­quers plan, which would leave the UK tied to many Brus­sels rules in­def­i­nitely.

The un­cer­tainty over Mrs May’s fu­ture as she nears the crunch point of the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions has led to in­ten­sive jostling be­hind the scenes as the main con­tenders ‘wargame’ pos­si­ble out­comes.

One Tory source com­pared the po­ten­tial lead­er­ship line-up to the Grand Na­tional. ‘Ev­ery­one and his grand­mother is plan­ning to run,’ the source said.

Al­lies of Mr John­son – who claimed last night that his cri­tique of Mrs May’s plan was ‘not about chang­ing Prime Min­is­ter, it’s about chuck­ing Che­quers’ – are al­ready siz­ing up po­ten­tial run­ning mates, with fast-ris­ing star Penny Mor­daunt at the top of their wish­list.

The In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tary and Equal­i­ties Min­is­ter, who has been tipped to run for the lead­er­ship in her own right, is a pro- Brexit Navy re­servist who came to pub­lic promi­nence in the ITV div­ing show Splash!, in which she painfully belly-flopped in front of mil­lions of view­ers.

Shortly af­ter­wards, she at­tracted fur­ther at­ten­tion by de­liv­er­ing a speech in the Com­mons on the wel­fare of poul­try, which she ad­mit­ted had been made with the sole pur­pose of ut­ter­ing the word ‘cock’ in or­der to win a dare.

Mr John­son’s re­cent mar­riage split, amid spec­u­la­tion about his

‘Lan­guage like that is not right. I would not have used it’

re­la­tion­ship with Tory aide Car­rie Sy­monds, has con­vinced some al­lies that a joint ticket with a pop­u­lar fe­male politi­cian is the best way to neu­tralise the po­lit­i­cal dam­age.

An­other run­ning mate be­ing con­sid­ered by the John­son camp is for­mer Home Sec­re­tary Am­ber Rudd, who has al­ready worked closely with Lyn­ton Crosby– the Aus­tralian elec­tion strate­gist who is pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally close to Mr John­son – over the bat­tle to hang on to her ul­tra-mar­ginal Hast­ings con­stituency.

At the same time, friends of Mr John­son’s main ri­val for the lead­er­ship, Home Sec­re­tary Sa­jid Javid, are un­der­stood to have made over­tures to Chief Sec­re­tary to the Trea­sury Liz Truss about stand­ing on a joint ticket with him if Mrs May is forced to re­sign.

Ms Truss, who is also ex­pected to put her name for­ward in any con­test, has re­cently un­der­gone a ‘wardrobe makeover’ ahead of her ex­pected tilt at the lead­er­ship, ditch­ing dowdy items in favour of more al­lur­ing out­fits.

Mr John­son is ex­pected to up­stage Mrs May at the Tory Party Con­fer- ence next month when he speaks at a ‘chuck Che­quers’ rally the day be­fore her key­note speech.

But some al­lies say they fear that No 10 will try to use ‘dirty tricks’ to take the shine off of his ap­pear­ance – such as re­leas­ing the Tory Party’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his mock­ing com­ments in a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle about burkas on the same day as the rally, in or­der to neu­tralise his tri­umph.

Mrs May hopes to make ma­jor progress on Brexit at a key sum­mit this week when the lead­ers of all 28 EU coun­tries meet in the Aus­trian city of Salzburg to dis­cuss how they could reach a deal.

Joint ticket may help to ease mar­riage fall­out

Down­ing Street hopes that the sum­mit will sig­nal that EU ne­go­tia­tors are prepar­ing to di­lute their de­mands for fur­ther con­ces­sions on Che­quers in or­der to pro­tect Mrs May from a putsch.

How­ever, sources close to the ne­go­ti­at­ing teams warned that the most Theresa May could ex­pect were ‘pos­i­tive words’ and a ‘fail­ure to kill off Che­quers al­to­gether’.

It comes amid con­tin­u­ing ten­sions be­hind the scenes over Northern Ire­land. The EU is still in­sist­ing on a ‘back­stop’ to the agree­ment if no deal can be reached, which would leave Northern Ire­land ef­fec­tively tied to the Ir­ish Re­pub­lic in a cus­toms union post-Brexit, with a bor­der with the UK run­ning down the mid­dle of the Ir­ish Sea.

The Mail on Sun­day un­der­stands that the For­eign Of­fice has com­plained to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion that the Bri­tish ne­go­ti­at­ing

team in Brus­sels were re­cently forced to wear se­cu­rity badges which – for the first time – re­ferred to ‘Great Bri­tain’ rather than the ‘United King­dom’. The for­mer term ex­cludes Northern Ire­land.

A source present said: ‘There’s a clear cam­paign from some in the Com­mis­sion to un­der­mine Northern Ire­land’s sta­tus within the UK. Care­less in­sults like this are just the start of it. We have to keep our United King­dom to­gether through Brexit, what­ever the EU and one or two of their use­ful Brex­i­teer id­iots might think.’

The source added that the Gov­ern­ment had sought as­sur­ances that the ‘United King­dom’ would be re­stored as the stan­dard.

Brexit Sec­re­tary Do­minic Raab has can­celled a trip to Brus­sels for Brexit talks af­ter ne­go­ti­a­tions stalled over the EU’s pro­pos­als for a ‘back­stop’ so­lu­tion to the Ir­ish bor­der ques­tion, say­ing ‘sub­stan­tive’ dif­fer­ences re­mained.

BBC Panorama: In­side No 10: Deal or No Deal? will be screened to­mor­row at 8.30pm on BBC1.

* That’ll be Penny Mor­daunt, the ar­dent Brex­i­teer who made a big Splash on TV

MAK­ING HER POINT: In her BBC in­ter­view, Mrs May ad­mits she can still be a ‘bloody dif­fi­cult woman’ but ‘when the time is right – and when it mat­ters’

DREAM TEAM? Al­lies have urged Boris John­son to chal­lenge Mrs May’s lead­er­ship on a joint ticket with Penny Mor­daunt

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