Tory grandee Sir Nicholas Soames attacks Nicky Morgan over trousers row
A senior Tory has attacked ex-education secretary Nicky Morgan's "unacceptable" comments on Theresa May's £995 leather trousers because they "trivialised" Brexit.
Sir Nicholas Soames, who is part of a group of Tory MPs that includes Ms Morgan which is seeking a "soft Brexit", expressed frustration that the former Cabinet minister's remarks on the designer legwear had diverted attention from serious issues surrounding the EU withdrawal.
The Tory grandee said that he was "not surprised" Ms Morgan had been stopped from attending a Downing Street meeting between Mrs May and backbenchers over Brexit plans following her criticism of the Prime Minister's decision to wear the Amanda Wakeley "bitter chocolate" trousers in a photo-shoot.
"What Nicky Morgan said of the Prime Minister was completely unacceptable and succeeded in trivialising a very important argument that a group of us was making about Brexit.
"I am not the least surprised that the Prime Minister said she did not want Nicky Morgan to come. I very much regret it. I'm fond of Nicky but it is a great pity she said that," he told the Evening Standard.
The spat escalated after Mrs May's joint chief of staff Fiona Hill warned Tory MP Alistair Burt not to bring Ms Morgan to Number 10 for Brexit talks this week.
Text messages obtained by the Mail on Sunday show that Ms Hill texted Mr Burt to tell him "Don't bring that woman to No 10 again" after she criticised the expense of the trousers.
However, Ms Morgan found out about the message and sent the aide a stinging riposte.
The message seen by the Mail on Sunday said: "If you don't like something I have said or done, please tell me directly. No man brings me to any meeting. Your team invites me. If you don't want my views in future meetings you need to tell them."
Ms Hill, believed to be referring to Mr Burt and Ms Morgan attending a previous meeting together, replied: "Well, he just did. So there!".
As the so-called "Trouser Gate" row gained momentum, Mrs May insisted she was not out of touch with ordinary people because she opted to wear costly clothing.
Speaking during an official visit to Bahrain for a Gulf summit, the PM said: ''Look, I stood on the steps of Downing Street and said what I did about the importance of a country that works for everyone because that is what I have heard from people as I have gone around the country, as I have met people in a whole variety of circumstances.
''I believe it is important for politicians to get out and about and that's exactly what I continue to do. It is important that we have a country that works for everyone.'
Loughborough MP Ms Morgan had expressed doubts about the expensive fashion choice, insisting: ''My barometer is always: 'How am I going to explain this in Loughborough market?'''
The MP said the trousers had been ''noticed and discussed'' in Tory circles. Mrs Morgan said: ''I don't have leather trousers. I don't think I've ever spent that much on anything apart from my wedding dress.''
Mrs May's official spokeswoman declined to discuss the meeting with backbenchers over Brexit, telling a regular Westminster media briefing: "The PM meets MPs and others regularly."
Asked whether the PM had bought the trousers using her Amanda Wakeley discount card, which she records having held since 2013 in the House of Commons Register of MPs' Interests, the spokeswoman said: "I'm not going to get into the details of the Prime Minister's purchases for her wardrobe."
Tory MPs supportive of the PM have defended her fashion choice by pointing to the fact that Ms Morgan has a designer Mulberry handbag which retails for some £950, but sources close to the ex-education secretary are reported to have said it is more than a decade old and was a gift.