The Scottish Mail on Sunday

BORIS SET TO LAUNCH BID TO BE PM AS MAY CLINGS ON

John­son team cir­cles wounded Tory leader as she’s forced to sac­ri­fice key aides to keep job

- By Glen Owen and Brendan Car­lin

BORIS JOHN­SON is pre­par­ing a new bid to be­come Prime Min­is­ter as Theresa May’s grip on No 10 be­comes in­creas­ingly frag­ile.

A close ally of the For­eign Sec­re­tary said last night it was ‘go-go-go’ for Mr John­son’s lead­er­ship push, adding: ‘We need Bojo. We need a

Brex­i­teer. We need some­body who can talk and con­nect with peo­ple like Jeremy Cor­byn does. We need some­one who can make Bri­tain be­lieve in it­self again.’

Mr John­son’s sup­port­ers are be­ing care­ful to say that he will not take any ac­tion while Mrs May re­mains in No10 – but the fact that his al­lies are ac­tively brief­ing about his virtues will be seen in Down­ing Street as desta­bil­is­ing.

Talk of his lead­er­ship bid came as Mrs May was rocked by the res­ig­na­tions of the two Down­ing Street ad­vis­ers who have been blamed for the Elec­tion dis­as­ter – and a Mail on Sun­day poll which found that half of vot­ers want her to quit.

Such is the febrile at­mos­phere that The Mail on Sun­day was even told that al­lies of Mr John­son be­lieve he has se­cured the sup­port of Michael Gove. But friends of Mr Gove – who was Mr John­son’s ri­val for the lead­er­ship in last year’s con­test – dis­pute this.

Mrs May last night won the back­ing of North­ern Ire­land’s Demo­cratic Union­ist MPs in or­der to shore up her pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion, in a deal that would of­fer her the prospect of a work­ing ma­jor­ity in the Com­mons.

The MoS Sur­va­tion poll found that 49 per cent of all vot­ers want Mrs May to re­sign, with only 38 per cent want­ing her to stay put. And out of the contenders to re­place her, Mr John­son outscores his near­est ri­val, Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond, by a mar­gin of more than two to one.

A sep­a­rate sur­vey of Tory sup­port­ers by the Con­ser­va­tive Home web­site found that two-thirds wanted Mrs May to an­nounce her res­ig­na­tion im­me­di­ately.

Few Tory MPs be­lieve that Mrs May will still be in No10 by the end of the sum­mer af­ter los­ing 13 Tory seats – squan­der­ing the party’s pre­vi­ous work­ing ma­jor­ity of 12.

Mrs May’s joint chiefs of staff, Nick Ti­mothy and Fiona Hill, stepped down yes­ter­day amid grow­ing crit­i­cism of the power which they wielded in Down­ing Street. MPs had pointed the fin­ger at Mr Ti­mothy for in­clud­ing the so-called ‘de­men­tia tax’ in the Tory man­i­festo, which was linked to a dra­matic drop in the party’s sup­port.

The aides have also been blamed by MPs and aides for cre­at­ing a ‘toxic’ Down­ing Street in which of­fi­cials and Min­is­ters are sub­ject to bul­ly­ing. It is un­der­stood that se­nior party fig­ures had warned Mrs May that she could face an im­me­di­ate lead­er­ship chal­lenge if her aides stayed in their jobs. Yes­ter­day, Mr Ti­mothy said he took re­spon­si­bil­ity for the fail­ure of the cam­paign, but de­nied that the ‘de­men­tia tax’ had been his ‘per­sonal pet pol­icy’. In a long part­ing state­ment he said: ‘The sim­ple truth is that Bri­tain is a di­vided coun­try: many are tired of aus­ter­ity, many re­main frus­trated or an­gry about Brexit, and many younger peo­ple feel they lack the op­por­tu­ni­ties en­joyed by their par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion.’ The aides were re­placed by a sin­gle chief of staff, for­mer Hous­ing Min­is­ter Gavin Bar­well, who lost his Croy­don Cen­tral seat in the Gen­eral Elec­tion. Mrs May is ex­pected to face a grilling by the party’s pow­er­ful 1922 Com­mit­tee of back­benchers this week, where she is likely to face hard ques­tions about the Elec­tion re­sult. Sources said there would have been a ‘blood­bath’ if Mr Ti­mothy and Ms Hill were still in their jobs when the meet­ing started. The dev­as­tated Prime Min­is­ter cob­bled to­gether an agree­ment with the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party last night af­ter send­ing her Chief Whip Gavin Wil­liamson to Belfast.

But Scot­tish Tory leader Ruth David­son – whose suc­cess north of the bor­der was cru­cial in pre­vent­ing Labour from form­ing a Govern­ment – ex­pressed pub­lic disquiet about the al­liance with the anti-gay rights, anti-abor­tion party.

She said she had sought ‘clear as­sur­ances’ from Mrs May that any deal would not set back equal­ity.

In Scot­land, Miss David­son also un­veiled her newly-strength­ened team of 13 MPs and de­clared they would be ‘Scot­land’s cham­pi­ons’ while Ni­cola Stur­geon came un­der fire from se­nior fig­ures within her own party for be­ing ‘out of touch’ with vot­ers over de­mands for another in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum. Mean­while south of the Bor­der there were pub­lic protests against the Tory deal with the DUP, which would be the only way Mrs May could en­sure her leg­is­la­tion got through the Com­mons. More than 500,000 peo­ple signed a pe­ti­tion against the Tories do­ing a deal.

The tur­moil forced Mrs May to de­lay a planned reshuf­fle of her mid­dle-rank­ing Min­is­ters un­til to­day. She is be­ing urged to ap­point a for­mal Deputy Prime Min­is­ter to shore up her po­si­tion, with Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis the favourite for the job.

It would put Mr Davis in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion, as he is widely be­lieved to be con­sid­er­ing a run at the lead­er­ship if there is a con­test. Other pos­si­ble can­di­dates in­clude Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond and Home Sec­re­tary Am­ber Rudd.

The Mail on Sun­day poll by Sur­va­tion – the only com­pany to ac­cu­rately pre­dict the re­sult of the Gen­eral Elec­tion – makes grim read­ing for Mrs May. Of the 49 per cent of vot­ers who think she should re­sign, a to­tal of 41 per cent think she should do so im­me­di­ately.

If she does quit, Mr John­son is the clear favourite to suc­ceed her. He

Out – the aides who made No 10 ‘toxic’ May ‘needs Deputy PM to shore up her po­si­tion’

is backed by 26 per cent of vot­ers, with Mr Ham­mond the next favourite with 10 per cent. Mr Davis is on nine per cent, Ms Rudd eight per cent and Mr Gove four per cent.

A spokesman for Mr John­son last night in­sisted he was fully be­hind Mrs May, say­ing: ‘He is com­pletely sup­port­ing the PM and work­ing closely with her to get the best deal in our Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.’

Re­spon­dents in our poll were scathing about Mrs May’s per­for­mance in the cam­paign, with only 16 per cent think­ing she had put in the best per­for­mance, com­pared to 67 per cent ar­gu­ing for Mr Cor­byn. When asked why Mrs May failed, the most com­mon an­swer, 27 per cent, was the de­men­tia tax.

The po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis caused by the Elec­tion is widely be­lieved to have strength­ened the hand of proEU MPs who sup­port a ‘soft’ Brexit, in which the UK re­tains ac­cess to the tar­iff-free sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union. This ap­proach is backed by 47 per cent of vot­ers, com­pared with 36 per cent who want a ‘hard’ Brexit.

The res­ig­na­tions of her clos­est aides leaves Mrs May an even more iso­lated fig­ure. The ‘ca­bal’ which took most de­ci­sions con­sisted of her, her hus­band Philip, Mr Ti­mothy and Ms Hill – with her Cab­i­net left out in the cold.

Craig Oliver, who was David Cameron’s di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, wel­comed the de­par­ture of the aides. In an ar­ti­cle for to­day’s Mail on Sun­day, he de­mands to know how ‘the Con­ser­va­tive party al­lowed th­ese two peo­ple with such ques­tion­able judg­ment to in­flu­ence so much and get it so wrong?’

And Katie Per­rior, who worked with Mr Ti­mothy and Ms Hill as Theresa May’s di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions un­til the Elec­tion, said the two aides were the rea­son that No 10 ‘bloody well stank’ of ‘ar­ro­gance’.

Tory peer Lord He­sel­tine added to the cho­rus of crit­i­cism, us­ing an ar­ti­cle in The Mail on Sun­day to de­scribe the Elec­tion as ‘an un­usu­ally poor cam­paign, crip­pled by the re­verse over what has been branded the “de­men­tia tax” and some un­wise slo­ga­neer­ing.’

Tory MP Nigel Evans was even more scathing, de­scrib­ing the Con­ser­va­tive man­i­festo as hav­ing been ‘full of poi­son from be­gin­ning to end’.

He said: ‘It was mean-spir­ited in try­ing to take school lunches off young­sters, it was ir­rel­e­vant in try­ing to bring back fox-hunt­ing and it was a full-frontal as­sault on our core sup­port which was the el­derly. The only thing that was miss­ing from the man­i­festo was com­pul­sory euthana­sia for the over-70s.’

Tory grandee Lord Teb­bit added: ‘The idea of this Elec­tion had been con­ceived by Mr and Mrs May and two or three close ad­vis­ers who know very lit­tle. They then elected to have a cam­paign of well over seven weeks. Mad­ness. If you are ahead at the be­gin­ning, as all the polls in­di­cated, the only thing that can hap­pen dur­ing those seven weeks is that things get worse.’

Lord Man­del­son also en­ters the de­bate to­day by call­ing for MPs who backed stay­ing in the EU to use Mrs May’s po­lit­i­cal weak­ness as an op­por­tu­nity to put pres­sure on her to keep the UK in the sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union.

The for­mer Labour Min­is­ter uses an ar­ti­cle in this news­pa­per to hint at an al­liance be­tween mod­er­ates, say­ing that ‘new par­lia­men­tary arith­metic’ should be used to out­ma­noeu­vre the ‘head­bangers’ who want to cut most ties with Brus­sels.

He says: ‘I be­lieve if [Mrs May] shows flex­i­bil­ity, most of the coun­try will back her. It would be churl­ish for peo­ple like me and other Remainers not to give her po­lit­i­cal back­ing.’

 ??  ?? Theresa May look­ing grim yes­ter­day HANG­ING BY A THREAD: PS: It’s not just her rep­u­ta­tion that’s been bat­tered... just take a look at her phone cover
Theresa May look­ing grim yes­ter­day HANG­ING BY A THREAD: PS: It’s not just her rep­u­ta­tion that’s been bat­tered... just take a look at her phone cover
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