An attempt to topple Theresa May appears to have been crushed after angry Tory MPs rode to the rescue and turned their fire on the chief plotter.
Ringleader Grant Shapps, a former party chairman, was left isolated when loyalist Conservative MPs denounced him – while his backers failed to come out in public support.
Mr Shapps was branded “cowardly”, “embittered” and a fantasist, with nowhere near the 30-odd signatures he claimed of MPs wanting the Prime Minister to fall on her sword.
No 10’s tactic of apparently “outing” Mr Shapps – who resigned after a bullying scandal and has few party allies – appeared to have worked, with MPs reluctant to follow his banner.
Conservative MPs who spoke to The Independent agreed there was no powerful reason to replace the Prime Minister at the moment – despite her conference disaster.
However, her position remains perilous, with attempts to gather names against her set to continue, a stumbling economy and Brexit talks resuming next week, with no sign of the deadlock being broken.
One former minister predicted, “Grant will fail”, but suggested his mutiny would accelerate a coup attempt by a more serious player – fearing a rival is also poised to pounce.
“No one will want to start getting organised too late if they think there is going to be a contest, so Grant’s move may force someone else to show their hand,” the MP said.
The Prime Minister herself sent out a “business as usual” message on a visit in her Maidenhead constituency, claiming progress on both Brexit and her domestic agenda.
“Now what the country needs is calm leadership, and that’s what I am providing with the full support of my Cabinet,” she told reporters.
There was now “real momentum” to the withdrawal negotiations, she argued, while a bill to “cap energy prices to stop ordinary working families being ripped off” would come next week.
A day of drama began when Mr Shapps was revealed as the leader of the attempted coup after – he claimed – party whips leaked his name.
The plotters had intended to go to Ms May “privately” to persuade her to stand down, after Mr Shapps and party whips had agreed he should not disrupt the party conference.
UK news in pictures
6 October 2017
An order of service is carried ahead of the funeral service for Coronation Street actress Liz Dawn, real name Sylvia Ann Ibbetson, outside Salford Cathedral. A former Woolworths shop girl from Leeds, who first set foot on Weatherfield’s famous cobbles in 1974, Dawn, who had four children, died peacefully last week at home with her family around her.
5 October 2017
Melanie Kramers of Oxfam poses while wearing a mask of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, with assorted props used in political campaigns, in the store room at Oxfam’s headquarters in London. The props have all been used in the charity’s campaigns over the years to raise awareness of issues affecting people in poverty. Today marks 75 years since Oxfam’s founding in the middle of the Second World War
4 October 2017
A visitor poses in front of an art work by Czech Repblic artist Anna Hulacova entitled ‘Ascension Mark I’ during a photocall for the Frieze Art Fair in London
2 October 2017
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond arrives to speak at the Conservative Party’s conference in Manchester
1 October 2017
Protesters holding flags and placards demonstrate along Oxford Street during the annual Ashura march in London. Thousands of protesters march through London today to mark Ashura and celebrate the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Ashura is a Muslim festival of remembrance that falls on the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar
30 September 2017
Protesters hold up placards during the London March for Choice, calling for the legalising of abortion in Ireland after the referendum announcement, outside the Embassy of Ireland in central London
Chris J Ratcliffe/AFP
29 September 2017
Former UKIP leader Paul Nuttall (C) speaks with delegates at the UKIP annual conference being held at the The Riviera International Centre in Torquay
27 September 2017
England and West Indies fans enjoy themselves during the 4th Royal London One Day International between England and West Indies at The Kia Oval in London
26 September 2017
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn takes photographs during Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Rebecca Long-Bailey’s speech in the main hall, on day three of the annual Labour Party Conference in Brighton
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
24 September 2017
Naked bathers enter the water as they take part in the North East Skinny Dip at Druridge bay in Druridge, England. The popular annual event takes place around the autumn equinox at Druridge Bay as the sun rises. Participant registration fees have been pledged to the mental health charity MIND.
23 September 2017
Rollo Maughfling, Archdruid of Stonehenge and Britain (R) conducts a ceremony as druids, pagans and revellers gather in the centre at Stonehenge, hoping to see the sun rise, as they take part in a autumn equinox celebrations at the ancient neolithic monument of Stonehenge near Amesbury in Wiltshire, England. Several hundred people gathered at sunrise ar the famous historic stone circle, a UNESCO listed ancient monument, to celebrate the equinox which is a specific moment in time that occurs twice a year when the Earth tilts neither towards (summer) or away (winter) from the sun in either the northern or southern hemisphere. Although yesterday marked the actual meteorological calendar change from summer to autumn, for druids, the following dawn is when they celebrate ‘the dawning of the new season’ following the day of equal night, which it is named after.
22 September 2017
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May delivers her Brexit speech at the Complesso Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy. British Prime Minister Theresa May will seek to unlock Brexit talks on September 22, after Brussels demanded more clarity on the crunch issues of budget payments and EU citizens’ rights
21 September 2017
People protest against the actions of the Spanish government in front of the Spanish consulate in Edinburgh. Spanish police stormed ministries and buildings belonging to Catalonia’s regional government yesterday, in an attempt to try and put a stop to the region’s independence referendum
20 September 2017
One of the final 55m turbine blades is manoeuvred into position. The last of 116 wind turbines have been installed at the Rampion Offshore Wind Farm 13 kms off the Brighton Coast. It will provide enough electricity to supply the equivalent of half the homes in Sussex
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
16 September 2017
An armed police officer patrols in Horse Guards Parade in London. An 18-year-old man has been arrested in Dover in connection with yesterday’s terror attack on Parsons Green station in which 30 people were injured. The UK terror threat level has been raised to ‘critical’
Jack Taylor/Getty Images
13 September 2017
Demonstrators hold banners during a protest to lobby MPs to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, after Brexit, outside the Houses of Parliament
12 September 2017
Rupert van der Werff, Summer Place Auctions’ Natural History specialist, moves a one-year-old baby mammoth skeleton at Summers Place Auctions on September 12, 2017 in Billingshurst. A family of four mammoths, found together during building works near the Siberian city of Tomsk in 2002, will be on sale on November 21, 2017, and are expected to sell in the region of £ 250,000 – 400,000
Rob Stothard/Getty Images
11 September 2017
Members of the Royal Navy carry supplies on board the amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean at the Naval Base in Gibraltar before leaving to provide humanitarian assistance and vital aid to British Overseas Territories and Commonwealth partners affected by Hurricane Irma. Britain has pledged £32 million (35 million euros, $42 million) in aid and sent hundreds of troops, supplies and rescue equipment on several flights to the British territories in the Caribbean since the disaster
JORGE GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images
10 September 2017
His Holiness The Dalai Lama holds the hand of Richard Moore as he gives a public talk on the theme of ‘Compassion in Action’ to celebrate 20 years of the Children in Crossfire initiative in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The Dalai Lama is the patron of the Children in Crossfire charity which was founded by Richard Moore. Mr Moore was blinded by a plastic bullet fired by a British Soldier during the Troubles in Derry.
9 September 2017
Participants in the annual Jane Austen Regency Costumed Parade dance on the lawn of the historic Georgian Royal Crescent before they walk through the city centre in Bath, England. This year, the annual event coincided with the 200th anniversary of 19th century author’s death and saw hundreds of people parade through city centre streets dressed in regency costume. The event marks the start of a 10-day Jane Austen festival that celebrates the 19th century author who lived in the city from 1801 to 1806 and set two of her six published novels, ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’, in Bath.
8 September 2017
Festival goers brave the wind and the rain at Bestival festival on the Lulworth Estate in Dorset
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
7 September 2017
Conservators and museum staff pose as they inspect the Manchester suffragette banner hanging in the conservation department of Manchester People’s History Museum. For nearly 50 years the banner lay undiscovered in a Leeds charity shop. It will go on public display next year to mark the centenary of women gaining the vote
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
6 September 2017
Protesters wave placards in Parliament Square during a protest against a Government pay cap in London. Thousands of protesters made up of nurses and supporters hold a demonstration in Westminster today calling on the Government to end the 1% cap on public sector pay
Jack Taylor/Getty Images
5 September 2017
U Soe Win, the great-grandson of Burma’s last King, visits Buckingham Palace
John Phillips/Getty Images
4 September 2017
Protestors demonstrate in support of workers at British McDonalds restaurants striking over pay and other industrial relations issues, near the Houses of Parliament in London
3 September 2017
World War II veteran from the Auxiliary Territorial Service Betty Webb (R) joins other veterans who worked at Bletchley Park and its outstations for a group picture in front of Bletchley Park Mansion during an annual reunion in Milton Keynes, England. Bletchley Park was the Government Code and Cypher School’s (GC&CS) main codebreaking centre during World War II and the site where codebreakers famously cracked the German’s Enigma and Lorenz cyphers.
2 September 2017
50,000 people making the foot crossing over new Queensferry road bridge
1 September 2017
Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, is greeted by Emperor Akihito of Japan during her visit to the Royal Palace in Tokyo, Japan. Mrs May is on the third and final day of her visit to Japan where she has discussed a number of issues including trade and security
Carl Court/Getty Images
31 August 2017
Well-wishers and Royal ‘enthusiasts’ gather outside the gates of Kensington Palace where tributes continue to be left, on the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
30 August 2017
Prime Minister Theresa May takes part in a tea ceremony in Kyoto, during her visit to Japan.
With his role revealed, the former chairman and Cameron-supporting moderniser took to the airwaves to make the case for Ms May to resign, arguing “the writing is on the wall”.
“A growing number of my colleagues realise the solution is not to bury our heads in the sand and hope it will get better,” he said.
“That never worked for [Gordon] Brown or [John] Major and I don’t think it will work out here either.
Mr Shapps said the MPs wanting the Prime Minister to go did not agree on a replacement, which should be a choice for the Tory faithful.
“This is not about promoting an individual. It’s about having a proper and full leadership election and that should go out to party members as well.”
Some delighted in referring to “Michael Green”, the notorious pseudonym that Mr Shapps operated under during his earlier career in business.
Former minister Tim Loughton said: “The only thing that needs burying in the sand is Grant Shapps no doubt together with Michael Green.”
Michael Fabricant said: “I wouldn’t buy a used car from one embittered colleague – let alone take advice from him about who should be PM. Theresa May should remain.”
Nigel Evans said: “There is only one direction that the Shapps bandwagon is going to roll, and that is over him. May is here to stay so get on side please.”
And Nadine Dorries added: “If he has got 30 MPs on that list, Diane Abbott must be doing the adding-up. There is no way he has 30 names. The PM is safe.”
Former ministers told The Independent it was a long time until the next election, which meant MPs were not yet panicking about their jobs.
One pro-EU former minister described Ms May’s problems as being “inherent in Brexit”, which meant they could not be dodged by any replacement also set on leaving the EU.
Worse, the crown could be claimed by a Brexiteer determined that Britain should “jump off the cliff”, rather than try to achieve a negotiated withdrawal.
“Anyone wanting to replace the Prime Minister needs to say who has the magic solution to Brexit. Otherwise they will have the exact same problems,” the MP said.
Another former minister said Ms May’s conference woes had not boosted support for a coup, adding: “ What has changed because of a frog in the Prime Minister’s throat?”
No 10’s nerves were also calmed by the first poll since the Manchester meltdown at the conference, suggesting it had not damaged Ma May.
YouGov found she was still preferred over Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister, by 36 per cent to 33 per cent, although Labour scored a two-point lead over the Tories as a whole.