Anti-EU hardliners threaten to oust Theresa May if she 'waters down' Brexit
Theresa May will face a "stalking horse" challenge to topple her as UK prime minister if she waters down Brexit, senior Tories have warned.
Leading Eurosceptic MPs have told Britain's Sunday Telegraph they are prepared to mount an immediate leadership challenge if May deviates from her original plan.
The revelation comes after a torrid week for the UK leader after she faced fierce criticism for her handling of the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed at least 58 people.
Conservative MPs - including Cabinet ministers - have concluded that May cannot lead them into the next election and they are now discussing when she could go.
* May admits failings after Grenfell Tower blaze
* London fire: 58 people assumed dead
* UK PM rushed away from London fire protests
* London fire protesters storm town hall
* Criminal probe as London fire toll rises
Eurosceptic MPs have warned that any attempt to keep Britain in the customs union and single market or any leeway for the European Court of Justice to retain an oversight function will trigger an "overnight" coup.
The plot has been likened to Sir Anthony Meyer's 1989 challenge against Margaret Thatcher. One former minister and influential figure said: "If we had a strong signal that she were backsliding I think she would be in major difficulty. The point is she is not a unifying figure any more. She has really hacked off the parliamentary party for obvious reasons. So I'm afraid to say there is no good will towards her."
They added: "What we would do is to put up a candidate to run against her, a stalking horse. You can imagine who would do it. It would be a re-run of the Margaret Thatcher scenario, with Anthony Meyer. Of course Meyer had no chance at all, but she lost support and she was gone. Bear in mind that she was a hell of a lot more popular than the current prime minister."
Another former minister said: "If she weakened on Brexit, the world would fall in... all hell would break lose."
Critics have questioned why May failed to meet victims and relatives on her first visit to the Grenfell Tower - in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader. Damian Green, the UK's First Secretary of State, defended May on Saturday, saying she was "distraught" by the blaze and calling criticism "terribly unfair".
However, some Tories admit privately they are concerned about a "very serious" backlash and fear May's image may have been damaged irrevocably. May on Saturday night [Sunday NZ Time]attempted to stabilise her new government - still less than a fortnight old - by announcing there would be no Queen's Speech in 2018. The move, which will mean Parliament sitting for a two-year session rather than one, was framed as a way of ensuring Brexit-related laws are passed in time.
However, it also removes a critical vote that could have toppled the Government and comes as a crucial support deal with the Democratic Unionist Party has yet to be finalised.
Brexit will enter the spotlight again when David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, goes to Brussels for the formal start of talks on Monday.
A UK Cabinet row that has played out all week goes public on Sunday as Liam Fox and Boris Johnson issue a thinly veiled rebuttal of Philip Hammond's views.
Dr Fox, the International Trade Secretary, writes in The Sunday Telegraph that Britain must be able to sign free trade deals after Brexit - which means leaving the customs union.
"We want Britain to be able to negotiate its own trade agreements, and as we leave the European Union that is what we will do," he writes. Johnson, the UK's Foreign Secretary, is expected to make public similar comments.
However, Hammond, the Chancellor, will appear on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday to argue for a softer Brexit with an emphasis on maintaining free trade links with the EU.
Many Eurosceptics have effectively made their support for May conditional on her fulfilling the terms set out in her Lancaster House speech, delivered in January, which was also reflected in the Tory manifesto. In that address, May said Britain must leave the single market and customs union and she pledged an end to freedom of movement and ECJ jurisdiction.
- The Telegraph, London