- Phil Noble/Reuters
- Theresa May’s future as prime minister is in serious doubt following her chaotic conference speech. May was reportedly left “extremely distraught” after being disrupted by a protester and then a coughing fit. A former Tory minister says “it’s time to put ourselves out of the agony.”
LONDON – Theresa May’s future as prime minister is in doubt after her chaotic conference speech, with a number of Conservative MPs reportedly seeking to replace her as soon as possible.
The prime minister had aimed to stabilise her position in Downing Street with the keynote speech to close the Conservative conference but was disrupted by a series of mishaps which left her “extremely distraught,” the Telegraph newspaper reported.
Prankster Simon Brodkin, more commonly known as Lee Nelson, handed her a fake P45 midway through the speech before she suffered from coughing fits and almost lost her voice.
The stage set even began to fall apart before May had finished her address, with letters from the slogan “Building A Country That Works For Everyone” falling off, leaving it reading “Building A Country That Works Or Everyon.”
The disastrous end to the Tory conference reignited the debate over the prime minister’s future, with one Conservative MP telling the Times newspaper: “Yesterday I thought she was two crises from the exit, now it’s just one.”
Backbench MP Mark Pritchard tweeted that a “small number” of his parliamentary colleagues were questioning May’s future via texts. Pritchard told those “circling above” that “there is no vacancy at Number 10.”
The Telegraph reported that up to 30 Tory MPs want to see May gone. At least 48 need to send letters to backbench 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady before a leadership challenge can take place.
Cabinet ministers including Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt rallied around May, with the environment secretary saying that the prime minister was at the “top of her game.”
However, a former Conservative minister told the Telegraph newspaper: “It’s time to put ourselves out of the agony, the speech was excruciating to watch and as a result conversations are happening at a faster pace. People had wanted her to go by 2019 but now that could be much sooner.
“There is a concern that there isn’t a real alternative for leader but on the other hand if we get this out of the way now we could have someone new by Christmas.”
Veteran Tory MP John Redwood said: “I and many Conservative MPs like me are fully behind her and we are sorry for her that her voice went at the wrong moment.
“But we do not think it spoils the underlying message and the strong point she made to the party that it is our job to get on delivering a strong Brexit.”
The fallout from the event left MPs blaming Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for putting pressure on May with a series of Brexit interventions. Brodkin claimed “Boris asked me to give this [the P45] to you,” when he invaded the stage.
The Conservative Party chairman, Sir Patrick McLoughlin, was also blamed for his part in allowing the series of mishaps to occur, with some sources suggesting that he could be pushed out of his position.
A Downing Street spokesperson admitted that the conference had “taken its toll” on the prime minister’s voice, but some blamed her team for allowing her agenda to be so packed. May gave 28 interviews and made 19 appearances at events during the conference, despite her heavy cold which forced her to interrupt the speech.
The prime minister referenced her loss of voice in a tweet after the event:
— Theresa May (@theresa_may) October 4, 2017
Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister John Trickett said: “Conference season has shown us that the Conservatives are yesterday’s party; Labour is setting the agenda.”
Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable said: “This was the speech of a brave Prime Minister struggling on, while her disloyal Cabinet colleagues openly plot against her.”