Should May Stay or Should She Go? Tories Tepidly Back Their Boss

Panmure Gordon Says Johnson Unsackable at This Stage

The Conservative Party annual conference is in full swing in the northern city of Manchester with the fate of two top Tories on the line: Prime Minister Theresa May and her Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

May is under pressure to tame her top diplomat, who has been going rogue on Brexit policy and begging the question of whether he wants to launch a leadership challenge. The key players have been asked about it repeatedly and we compiled the answers.

On the surface they back her publicly, but there are signs of disquiet in their language.

The embattled leader: Theresa May

Theresa May on Oct. 2.

Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

On her own future: The premier told reporters on a trip to Japan at the end of August that she would stand at the next election. “I’m in this for the long term. I’m not a quitter.”

On Johnson: Asked on Sunday whether he was “unsackable,” May laughed and said: “you talk about Boris’s job, you talk about my job. I think the people watching this program are actually interested in what we’re going to do for their jobs and their futures and their children’s futures.”

The perennial pretender: Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

On May: After May declared she’d stand again at the next election, he pledged his “undivided” support. But the Sunday Times reported this weekend that he believes she’ll be gone within a year.

On himself: Asked in a pooled TV interview in New York last month if he would quit if he doesn’t get his way on Brexit, Johnson replied: “I think, if I may say, you may be barking slightly up the wrong tree.” On Sunday, he rejected criticism aimed at him, saying “if you studied what I said, it was basically government policy. I think it’s extraordinary that so much fuss has been made.”

May’s deputy: Damian Green

On May: “By 2022 she will have a big record of achievement to show,” he told the Spectator in an interview published Sept. 30.

On Johnson: “Boris clearly has huge talents and having him in the cabinet it gives us those strengths,” Green said on Sunday in an ITV interview.

The man controlling the finances: Philip Hammond

Philip Hammond on Oct. 2.

Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

On Theresa May: the chancellor of the exchequer told ITV on Monday that May has “indicated she will fight the next election; if she does so she has my 100 percent support.”

On Johnson and cabinet divisions over Brexit: Hammond told ITV “the real process is going on between us and the negotiating team in Brussels. Everything else is noise.” He told the BBC that "Boris is Boris."

The woman seen as an heiress: Amber Rudd

On Theresa May: the home secretary said “I’m very clear that the cabinet and the government supports Theresa May, at this difficult moment to make sure that we get the best result for the United Kingdom,” she said Sept. 17 in a BBC interview.

On Johnson: In the same interview, she said "you could call it back seat driving,” referring to the foreign secretary’s interventions on Brexit.

The main Brexit negotiator: David Davis

On May: “She’s a great prime minister,” Brexit Secretary told the BBC at the beginning of September. “I have been never anything less than impressed in the way she runs the country. That’s what matters.”

On Johnson: Asked on Sept. 24 in a BBC interview whether Johnson was being a backseat driver, he said “my car’s only got two seats.” He then went on to say "I’m not going to criticize people for having a passionate view."

May loyalist: Greg Clark

On May: Asked on Monday at a fringe event whether May should stand again at the next election, the business secretary replied “Yes. She would stand on the record of having negotiated a successful deal for us on Brexit.”

On Johnson: Asked at the same event if the foreign secretary should be sacked, Clark replied: “No. Boris is a valued member of the cabinet.”

The charismatic Scot: Leader Ruth Davidson

On the leadership: “Let’s get back to why we are here -- to talk about the real issues and not about the Tory psychodrama,” she said on Sunday in a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference.

On Johnson: Discussing Brexit in an interview with The Times on Saturday, she said: “overoptimism and not recognizing that there are practical realities that have to be faced, that have to be worked through and that complexity is not something you just skip over, that you actually have to work through, I think sells people short.’’

The old-school hardliner: Jacob Rees-Mogg

On May: the backbench lawmaker who regularly leads polls on possible successors for May, told a fringe event at the party conference on Sunday that "time will tell” whether she stands at the next election. "Do I want her to? Yes, she has my full support, without question.”

The pro-EU Tory: Nicky Morgan

On Johnson: the chair of the Treasury select committee told BBC radio on Sunday that "If he can’t stop setting down arbitrary red lines then yes he has to go.”

The man who could lead a revolt: Graham Brady

As head of the so-called 1922 Committee made up of backbench Tories, Brady will know when a rebellion will kick off as it will start there, with the rank-and-file.

On May’s future: “I don’t think there is a demand in the parliamentary Conservative Party for a debate about the future leadership of the party.”

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