In Brief

Theresa May uncovers secret plot to oust her

Prime minister’s former election guru behind plan to replace her with Boris Johnson

Downing Street has uncovered a secret plot by Theresa May’s former election guru to oust the prime minister and replace her with Boris Johnson.

According to senior figures at Tory HQ, Sir Lynton Crosby is behind plans to mount a nationwide campaign against May’s Chequers agreement on Brexit as the precursor to a leadership challenge from the former foreign secretary.

Australian-born Crosby masterminded the Tories shock general election win in 2015, but “is said to be motivated by “revenge” after No 10 blamed the strategist for last year’s botched General Election”, reports the Mail on Sunday.

MPs plan to publish an alternative to May’s plan before the Tory party conference at the end of the month with the backing of both Johnson and David Davis, who resigned as Brexit secretary over Chequers and yesterday said he would vote against the deal in the Commons.

The Sunday Times has revealed that May’s aides have had talks with civil servants about whether to call a general election if her Brexit deal is voted down by MPs. They have also discussed whether she should announce that she will stand down in the year after Brexit.

But it is the revelation that the Tories’ top election strategist is trying to destroy May’s flagship policy that “will ignite a firestorm in Westminster” says the paper.

Crosby’s powerful campaign company CTF Partners is said to be in close contact with the European Research Group (ERG) of Brexit hardliners run by Jacob Rees-Mogg to coordinate with Change Britain, a group set up to argue for a hard Brexit, and turn it into a guerilla campaign against the Chequers deal.

The campaign would then double as a platform for Johnson - whose 2008 London mayoral victory was also masterminded by Crosby - to make a rival leadership bid.

For his part, Johnson, who has seen his popularity soar among Tory grassroots members resigning in protest at the prime minister’s proposal for Brexit, has denied plotting with Crosby to derail negotiations with Brussels and seize Downing Street.

But in a sharply worded shot across his bows last night, a senior Tory source told The Mail on Sunday: “Boris hasn’t thought this through. His plan could result in us delaying leaving the EU, or even not leaving at all. If that happens, the party membership would never forgive him.”

With Parliament returning from summer recess tomorrow, Theresa May has sought to head off any rebellion from hardline Brexiteers by vowing in the Sunday Telegraph not to make any compromises to the Chequers deal, nor to give in to demands for a second referendum – branding it a “gross betrayal” of voters’ trust.

But “with Brussels demanding further compromise, and a significant number on her own benches set to vote the deal down, let alone Labour, the odds are stacking up against Ms May’s deal passing through parliament”, reports The Independent.

As one anti-Chequers source told the Sunday Times’ Tim Shipman: “If we stop Chequers, there is no way [May will] survive. If Boris has the backing of the right, he’ll win. Boris is either in Downing Street by Christmas or is in Downing Street by the summer.”

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