A Cabinet minister refused to predict Liz Truss will survive in No 10 until the general election – saying “at the moment, I think that’s the case”.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan laid bare the deepening crisis in Downing Street – following the breakdown of discipline in the fracking vote – which has led some Tory MPs to call for the prime minister to be forced out today.
Asked if Ms Truss would still be the Conservative leader when the election is fought, the transport secretary she believed she would be “at the moment”.
Pressed, in a different interview, Ms Trevelyan again refused to guarantee she would survive, replying: “We want to stand with her to deliver the business of government.”
Asked the question a third time – after condemning the “manhandling” of MPs to vote against a fracking ban and demanding an inquiry – the transport secretary said: “That’s what we will be working towards.”
Some Conservative MPs – in despair at the meltdown of the government, on a day when the home secretary was also sacked – want Ms Truss to be forced out within hours.
Charles Walker, a former chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, said: “The grown-ups in our party, and a few do exist, need to meet in a papal conclave over the next 24 hours and decide on a coronation.
And Crispin Blunt, a former minister, said: “It’s plain what is required. We need to effect a change, frankly, today in order to stop this shambles.”
Simon Hoare, the chair of the Commons Northern Ireland committee, said: “Can the ship be turned around? Yes. But I think there is about 12 hours to do it.”
The veteran Tory MP Gary Streeter became the latest to say Ms Truss must be forced out, as the first step to avoiding “slaughter at the next election”, tweeting: “Sadly, it seems we must change leader.”
Ms Trevelyan, speaking on BBC Breakfast, insisted the UK still has a “functioning government” and, eventually, that Ms Truss is the best person to lead it
“Yes, she was selected through a long and tortuous process over the summer, by our members, and that’s how the Conservative party system works to choose a leader and we stand firmly alongside her.”
She pointed to the 31 October statement as a key moment, saying: “Jeremy Hunt is the new Chancellor, bringing in a full package at the end of the month, so we want to give him the space to do that.”
Downing Street has backed down on its threat to strip the whip from any Conservative MP who failed to vote down Labour’s attempt to ban fracking, late on Wednesday.
Instead, No 10 said only that the rebels should “expect proportionate disciplinary action” – after 36 abstained, including several big-hitters.
No 10 also sought to take the blame for the confusion over whether it was being treated as a confidence vote – meaning the suspension from the parliamentary party of any rebels.
At the despatch box, the climate change minister Graham Stuart told MPs it was not – fuelling the angry scenes that followed – but No 10 said he was “told, mistakenly, by Downing Street to say that it was not”.