'Window is closing' for May as speculation rises over leadership challenge

29 January 2018, 13:29

MPs on both sides of the Brexit debate are becoming increasingly vocal - boosting speculation that Theresa May will be subject to a leadership challenge.

Leading backbencher Johnny Mercer said the "window is closing" for the Prime Minister to reinvigorate the Conservatives' fortunes.

At the weekend, the MP for Plymouth Moor View said Jeremy Corbyn could become Prime Minister unless the Tories "get our s*** together".

Another prominent Tory, Mrs May's former joint chief of staff Nick Timothy, has warned that a lack of "purpose and direction" is responsible for the current malaise infecting the party.

Speaking at a Resolution Foundation event about the future of the Tories alongside Mr Mercer, Mr Timothy called for a shift in fiscal policy - telling an audience that the NHS needs a cash injection.

Charles Walker, vice chairman of the influential backbench 1922 Committee, was forced to played down talk of a leadership challenge amid the row over Mrs May's approach to Brexit.

And Sir Nicholas Soames - who last week warned that Mrs May's agenda was "dull, dull, dull" - issued a more nuanced message on Monday morning when he called on the Tories to "recover self-confidence" and "restore sense of direction".

When asked about his comments at the Resolution Foundation event, Mr Mercer said: "How long has the Prime Minister got? I am of the view that any sort of change of leadership is not helpful at the moment and I don't support that.

"But, I do think the window is closing, because politics can be quite a brutal game.

"At the moment I do feel we are slightly struggling with a message and with a vision."

He added: "Yes, we are in danger of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister."

Mr Timothy, who resigned in the wake of Mrs May's election gamble backfiring, said: "It feels increasingly clear that the country is tired of austerity, and that public services are starting to feel the strain a little bit.

"It's clear that while the NHS needs reform it also needs more money."

Mr Timothy also said the Tories need to have a wider internal debate about the party's future purpose.

He said: "I think the party needs to set up processes that will enable it to debate its future purpose and policies because if that is left until 2020/21, that is going to feel too late in the electoral cycle."

When asked when he had last had contact with the PM, Mr Timothy said he had not "seen" Mrs May since he quit.

The PM's official spokesman declined to tell journalists whether Mrs May had met or been in phone or email contact with Mr Timothy since June's election.