LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday said she enjoyed the “full support” of her cabinet after a former chairman of her Conservative Party admitted he was behind a plot by around 30 MPs to urge her to resign.
“What the country needs is calm leadership and that’s what I’m providing with the full support of my cabinet,” May told reporters in her constituency in Maidenhead, west of London.
Grant Shapps, identified as the ringleader of the effort to oust May after a faltering performance at the party’s conference this week and cabinet infighting over Brexit, said there was growing momentum behind the calls for her to step down.
Shapps said five former ministers were part of the move to oust May and some current ministers also “support it”, although other senior party figures contradicted him.
“A growing number of my colleagues, we realize that the solution isn’t to bury our heads in the sand and just hope things will get better,” Shapps told BBC radio.
Asked about the plot, he said: “Are there cabinet members aware? Yes. Do some support it? Yes.”
“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 conversation,” said Shapps, an MP and former minister.
He added there was increasing support among a “broad spread” of MPs for a leadership contest in the first open declaration of an organized effort to oust May since her poor performance in a June snap general election.
May’s 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.
The latest round of political uncertainty surrounding May pushed down the value of the pound against the euro and the dollar on currency markets.
“The British pound has fallen out of bed since the end of the Conservative party conference… MPs’ confidence in Theresa May is at a low point,” said Jasper Lawler, head of research at London Capital Group, an online trading platform.
Speculation around May’s position has intensified in recent days after a chaotic address to the Conservative Party’s annual conference on Wednesday marred by coughing fits, a falling set and a prankster’s interruption.
The Conservatives have 316 MPs in parliament. Under the party’s rules, a leadership race can be triggered if at least 48 of those 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.
Veteran backbencher Michael Fabricant said of Shapps: “I wouldn’t buy a used car from one embittered colleague — let alone take advice from him about who should be PM.”
And former minister Rob Halfon, sacked by May, said the plot brought the Labour opposition leader closer to taking over the prime minister’s Downing Street office.
“This knucklehead behavior makes our party weaker and it allows Jeremy Corbyn one step closer to Number 10,” he told Channel 4 television.
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 was badly weakened in this year’s general election. She called the snap vote but ended up losing her parliamentary majority and her cabinet has been riven with divisions over Brexit strategy in recent weeks.
Shapps, an ex-minister and former Chairman of the Conservative Party, is a businessman-turned-politician who once served as National President of the Jewish youth organization BBYO.