They insisted Mrs May should remain “captain” of the ship ahead of a critical week which could finally bring an end to the Brexit deadlock. And they warned plotters behind a damaging Cabinet coup to apologise and “shut up”. In another extraordinary day in Westminster, Michael Gove and David Lidington both pledged their support to the beleaguered Prime Minister after being named at the centre of the Cabinet coup to oust her from No.10.
The Environment Secretary said it was “not the time to change the captain of the ship”, while Mr Liddington said he had no desire to take over the reins.
Chancellor Philip Hammond accused those allegedly trying to topple Mrs May of being “self-indulgent”, while former party leader Iain Duncan Smith lashed out at dissenting Ministers.
Mr Duncan-Smith told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: ”I think that’s appalling, I think they should be censured and some of them should be sacked.
“And the idea of a cabal, a cabal that never wanted to leave the European Union, turning out to decide what should happen over our future would be unacceptable to my colleagues.
“They should apologise and shut up.”
Mrs May is coming under intense pressure to name her departure date ahead of one final effort to win the Commons backing for her Brexit deal this week.
Yesterday she summoned leading Brexiteers to a ‘High Noon’ showdown in Chequers.
Brexit news: Theresa May has once again stared down her Westminster rivals
Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith, Dominic Raab and Jacob Rees-Mogg were among those invited to speak with Mrs May at her country retreat.
They were joined by serving ministers including Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Mrs May’s de-facto deputy prime minister and Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, Tory Chief Whip Julian Smith and Alistair Burt.
Downing Street said the “lengthy” meeting discussed a range of issues, including whether there is sufficient support in the Commons to bring back a Meaningful Vote this week.
Mrs May is believed to have confronted ministers with a warning to back her Brexit deal or face a soft EU exit.
One source told the Daily Mirror: “It was back my deal or get a softer Brexit.”
BuzzFeed’s Alex Wickham said the PM also said no deal was “off the table” as it would be blocked in Parliament.
Mrs May also “refused to be drawn” on whether she would outline the timetable of her own departure from Downing Street in exchange for securing Brexiteers support, Wickham reported.
Theresa May has warned MPs they need to choose between her deal and a soft Brexit
Tomorrow, the PM will confront those trying force her out of power in a double No.10 showdown today.
She will hold two high stakes Cabinet meetings on Monday morning where she will come face to face with those accused of attempting to topple her.
It is claimed 11 Cabinet ministers want Mrs May to make way for someone else and Mr Lidington or Mr Gove was in line to take over the helm.
Mr Gove told the BBC: “I think this is a time for cool heads. But we absolutely do need to focus on the task at hand and that’s making sure that we get the maximum possible support for the Prime Minister and her deal.”
He added: “It’s not the time to change the captain of the ship, I think what we need to do is to chart the right course.”
Speaking to reporters in his Aylesbury constituency, Mr Lidington, said: “I don’t think that I’ve any wish to take over from the PM who I think is doing a fantastic job.
“I tell you this – one thing that working closely with the Prime Minister does is cure you completely of any lingering shred of ambition to want to do that task.”
Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has infuriated both Remain and Leave campaigners alike
Despite heavy criticism of Mrs May’s handling of the Brexit process and calls from members of her party to stand aside, the Chancellor insisted ousting her would not “solve the problem”.
“To be talking about changing the players on the board frankly is self-indulgent at this time,” Mr Hammond told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday.
“This is not about the Prime Minister or any other individual, this is about the future of our country.
“Changing Prime Minister wouldn’t help us, changing the party in Government wouldn’t help us – we’ve got to address the question of what type of Brexit is acceptable to Parliament.”
Mrs May has come under growing pressure to quit following a week in which she was forced to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50, and criticised for blaming the delay to Brexit on MPs.
The withdrawal deal she has negotiated with the EU has been overwhelmingly rejected in the Commons twice, and it remains unclear whether she will bring it back a third time this week after she wrote to MPs saying she would only do so if there was “sufficient support”.
A former top ally of Mrs May has said it was “all over” for her in No 10, while an ex-Cabinet figure said Mrs May must be told: “It’s time to go.”
George Freeman – who served as a policy adviser to the Prime Minister in her early days in Downing Street – said the country needed a new leader to break the deadlock.
“She’s done her best” he said. “But across the country you can see the anger,” he said. “Everyone feels betrayed. Government’s gridlocked. Trust in democracy collapsing. This can’t go on.”
“We need a new PM who can reach out (and) build some sort of coalition for a Plan B.”
Fellow backbencher Nigel Evans said mrs May’s departure is “guaranteed.”
“Everybody knows now that the Prime Minister’s departure from Number 10 is absolutely guaranteed,” he said.
“What is not guaranteed is her legacy, and that is what Theresa May now ought to be thinking about. Does she want to go down as the Prime Minister who failed to deliver on the largest mandate that the people have ever given a Government in a referendum?
“Or, is she going to succeed in ensuring that is delivered.”