IMPLOSION OF THE PLOTTERS
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
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
‘James only pulled out when Downing Street gave him a job’
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 No10 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 those 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 the guest speaker at Mr Shapps’s annual Tory association dinner on Friday evening, although friends 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