Tory feuding continues despite Theresa May’s ballot victory

Vicious feuding within the Conservative Party has continued despite Theresa May's victory in Wednesday's vote on her leadership and her call for politicians to "come together" in the national interest.

Brexiteers led by Jacob Rees-Mogg repeated demands for the Prime Minister to quit as Tory leader, insisting the 200-117 vote showed she had lost the confidence of more than a third of her MPs and a majority of backbenchers.

However, loyalists hit back, with one minister comparing members of the hardline European Research Group to ants surviving a nuclear holocaust.

After Mrs May told MPs she would not be leading the party into the next general election, backbench Tories reported that campaigns were already getting under way on behalf of potential successors.

Brexit
Results of the confidence vote were announced by Sir Graham Brady on Wednesday evening (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Prominent former minister Nicky Morgan even suggested that the party may split, telling the BBC: "I think there's an inevitability that some of these people – the hardest Brexiteers – are going to walk.

"There may be some sort of reconfiguration of parties on the right of the UK political spectrum and that may be something we are going to have to accept in order to get a Brexit deal through the House of Commons."

Staunch Brexiteers were smarting at Chancellor Philip Hammond's description of them as "extremists" who had been "flushed out" by the confidence vote.

Describing the comment as an example of "hopelessly inaccurate and politically biased" Treasury forecasting, Mr Rees-Mogg said: "Don't take the Chancellor too seriously when he gets a little bit over-excited – an unusual state for him, it has to be said."

Jacob is rarely difficult to locate

A post shared by Steve Baker MP (@sjbakerhw) on

Former party leader Iain Duncan Smith – whose Commons office was reportedly used as an HQ by rebel Tories during Wednesday's voting – told the Chancellor to "moderate your language".

"I have one simple message for the Chancellor: When you start turning on your own party and making accusations about them, that's the beginning of the end for your party," Mr Duncan Smith told Radio 4's Today programme.

One of Mr Hammond's Cabinet colleagues, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, distanced himself from the comment, telling Today: "I think all of us say sometimes things in interviews which we perhaps could have phrased in a better way. It's not the phraseology I would have used."

Both Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Rees-Mogg denied reports that the rebels had nicknamed their Commons base for the vote "the kill zone", with the ERG chair claiming the "deeply disagreeable" moniker was invented by May supporters in the hope of discrediting them.

Mr Rees-Mogg said it was "not impossible" that, on reflection, Mrs May would decide to stand aside.

"You may remember that Margaret Thatcher ... said 'We fight on, we fight to win'," he said. "Nobody was tougher than Mrs Thatcher and the next day she resigned. So, it's not impossible.

"I think Theresa May should consider what she said last night. I agree with her that we do want somebody who can unite the country and the Conservative Party, and she has to ask herself is she realistically that person?"

Fellow Leave-backer Richard Drax said the party needed a Brexiteer as leader, telling ITV1's Good Morning Britain: "I would suggest, were the Prime Minister thinking carefully this morning, she would offer her resignation and allow someone who can deliver this to take over."

Other Brexiteers, including Andrea Jenkyns, said they accepted the result of Wednesday's vote but would continue to oppose Mrs May's Withdrawal Agreement in Parliament.

A Conservative supporter of a second referendum, Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston, said that replacing Mrs May with one of their favourites would not enable the ERG to get their version of Brexit through the Commons.

"A new leader won't change the maths of this place, that's the point here," she said.

There were appeals for unity and calm from supporters of the Prime Minister.

Business Secretary Greg Clark posted that "now the PM's position is confirmed, MPs must move from being critics to being responsible participants".

He added: "No-one wants a crash out, so we must now come together to agree a deal that works and supports jobs and industries across our country."

Tory deputy chair James Cleverly said: "Some colleagues, perhaps out of frustration (are) saying foolish things about other Conservatives. Now would be a good time to stop.

"Respect the results of the two referendums – 52% to leave the EU and 63% to support Theresa May."

Foreign minister Alistair Burt was more blunt: "They never, ever stop. Votes against them, letters going in late – nothing matters to ERG .

"After the apocalypse, all that will be left will be ants and Tory MPs complaining about Europe and their leader."

They never, ever stop. Votes against them, letters going in late- nothing matters to ERG. After the apocalypse, all that will be left will be ants and Tory MPs complaining about Europe and their leader. https://t.co/n3Jt04CjJe

— Alistair Burt (@AlistairBurtUK) December 12, 2018

Former minister David Jones suggested that campaigns for the leadership succession were already under way.

"I've no doubt that there will have been people in the room there who applauded the Prime Minister but are part of one campaign or another," he said.

Simon Hart, a former Remain supporter turned founder and leader of the Brexit Delivery Group of Tory backbenchers, said he had been approached by potential leadership candidates.

"I've had people I haven't spoken to in nine years since I was first elected in 2010 using this opportunity to sell their own credentials and engage in a private beauty parade," he said.

Mrs May's former policy adviser George Freeman said there was no hope of long-term survival for any Tory leader taking the country through Brexit.

"Whoever leads through this, I think, will be finished by it," he said.

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