Conservative plot to oust British PM: former party chairman

London (AFP) –


A plot by around 30 Conservative MPs including former cabinet ministers to call on British Prime Minister Theresa May to resign is gathering momentum, a former party chairman said on Friday.

Grant Shapps, identified as the ringleader of the effort to oust May amid her faltering performance at the party's conference this week and continued cabinet infighting over Brexit, publicly urged her to resign in several interviews.

Senior party figures contradicted Shapps, however, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove pointing out that the "overwhelming majority" of Conservative MPs, including the "entirety" of the cabinet, still backs May.

"A growing number of my colleagues, we realise that the solution isn't to bury our heads in the sand and just hope things will get better," Shapps told BBC radio after details of his plot were leaked to British media.

"It will have to be her decision. I had rather hoped that we would be able to get to the point where we could go to her privately and have this conservation," said Shapps, a former minister.

He added there was increasing support among a "broad spread" of Conservative MPs for a leadership contest in the first open declaration of an organised effort to oust May since her poor performance in a June general election.

Her leadership has also been strained in recent weeks by Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, who publicly undermined efforts to present a united front over Brexit with several newspaper columns and interviews setting out his own stance on the issue.

- Brexit strategy divisions -

Speculation around May's position then intensified in recent days after a chaotic address to the Conservative party's autumn conference on Wednesday marred by coughing fits, a falling set and a prankster's interruptions.

Under the party's rules, a leadership race can be triggered if at least 48 MPs express their support.

But leading figures in the Conservative party disagreed with Shapps.

"I really think this is now just going to fizzle out," said Charles Walker, deputy head of the party's powerful 1922 Committee, which would initiate any leadership contest.

A former interior minister, May came to power last year after her predecessor David Cameron stepped down in the wake of the Brexit referendum in which he had campaigned for Britain to stay in the European Union.

Her position has been badly weakened in this year's general election in which she ended up losing her parliamentary majority and her cabinet has been riven with divisions over Brexit strategy in recent weeks.