UK’s May loyalists urge her to fire plotters

LONDON • UK Prime Minister (PM) Theresa May is being encouraged to fire disloyal ministers who risk tearing the government apart and handing power to Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.

Several of her Conservative Party’s top officials are privately urging May to take a hard line with the plotters and get rid of those ministers responsible for anonymous briefings over the weekend against Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, according to one senior Tory lawmaker familiar with the matter and speaking on condition of anonymity.

May used a meeting of the Cabinet yesterday to order her most senior colleagues to stop feuding with each other, after weekend press reports laid bare the various factions at war. While the PM is battling a handful of conspirators operating behind the scenes, she can still count on important allies who are backing her publicly.

“The PM said that the briefings and counter-briefings over the weekend had been a case of colleagues not taking their responsibilities seriously,” May’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters in London after the Cabinet meeting. “She added that there is a need to show strength and unity as a country and that starts around the Cabinet table.”

The 1922 committee that represents rank-and-file Tory lawmakers made it clear to May at a meeting last week that “if she had to remove secretaries of state she would have our support”, its vice chairman, Charles Walker, told BBC Radio. “The party is united behind the PM and people who have leadership ambitions should remember that.”

The political upheaval caused the pound to drop on Monday and made for an uncomfortable backdrop for the Brexit negotiations underway in Brussels. May’s difficulties have been stacking up since June’s general election stripped the Conservative Party of its parliamentary majority.

The chaos May faces at home complicates multifaceted divorce talks with 27 nations acting in unison. Time is on the side of the European Union (EU), because if by March 29, 2019, there is no deal, the UK will be ejected from the EU and trade will be subject to tariffs. Talks resumed yesterday in Brussels, without Brexit Secretary David Davis. Officials focused on the exit bill, citizens’ rights and issues including nuclear-energy collaboration. Still, the talks were overshadowed by political infighting at home.

“I don’t feel particularly enfeebled,” Hammond told the House of Commons yesterday after he was taunted over the briefings by Labour opponents. — Bloomberg