Belfast Telegraph

Determined and calm Theresa May must carry on as Prime Minister, says DUP leader Arlene Foster

By Suzanne Breen

Arlene Foster is backing under-fire Prime Minister Theresa May to remain in the job and has expressed admiration for her "calmness and determination".

With rebel Tory MPs calling for Mrs May to resign following her disastrous performance at the party conference, the DUP leader last night voiced her support for the Prime Minister.

"I don't see any reason for the Prime Minister to stand down. Indeed, such a change could be destabilising at a time when we need stability to negotiate the best outcome as we leave the EU," she said.

The DUP has a confidence and supply agreement with the Tories which saw £1bn funding pledged for Northern Ireland in return for Mrs Foster's MPs backing the government in key votes.

While the DUP leader said it was "entirely a matter for each political party to select who its leader is", she made her support for Mrs May clear.

"Whilst many are discussing her conference speech, I was shocked and deeply alarmed by the clear lack of security around our nation's leader," she said.

"I could never imagine anyone getting so close to the US President and, if they did, I can't imagine then seeing such a delayed response. The Prime Minister could have been stabbed.

"I admire her calmness and determination to continue."

Mrs Foster said she "appreciated Theresa May's support on Bombardier and other issues impacting Northern Ireland" recently.

The DUP's deal with the Tories will remain even if the Prime Minister is toppled and replaced by another Cabinet colleague.

Mrs Foster said: "The confidence and supply agreement between the DUP and Conservative parliamentary parties was signed by the two chief whips to signify that it was an agreement between the two parties."

Mrs May yesterday brushed aside calls from rebel Tory MPs to stand aside, insisting she would carry on providing "calm leadership" at the head of government. 

In her first public appearance since her conference speech in Manchester on Wednesday, the Prime Minister insisted she had the "full support" of her Cabinet. 

MPs loyal to Mrs May predict that a backbench plot to oust her from Number 10 will "fizzle out". Former party chairman Grant Shapps was identified as the ringleader. Mr Shapps (below), who claims to have the backing of around 30 MPs, with some cabinet members privately offering support, said the demands for a challenge were growing.

He accused party whips of leaking his name to the media to "smoke out" the rebels. The plan had been for a group, including five ex-Cabinet members, to approach Mrs May privately with a list of names to avoid the "embarrassment" of a formal leadership challenge.

He told the BBC that support for a change of leader was growing among a "broad spread" of MPs including Remainers and Brexiteers.

"We realise the solution isn't to bury our heads in the sand and just hope things will get better," he said. "It never worked out for Brown or Major and I don't think it is going to work out here either." But Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the powerful Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, said the attempt to force a leadership contest lacked credibility and would fail. 

Mrs May's supporters maintained the rebels lacked the 48 MPs needed to force a contest under party rules.

Arriving for a charity event in her Maidenhead constituency, the Prime Minister attempted to present a business as normal image.

"Now what the country needs is calm leadership, and that's what I am providing with the full support of my Cabinet," she said. 

"Next week I am going to be updating MPs on my Florence speech, which has given real momentum to the Brexit talks, and I will also be introducing a draft Bill to cap energy prices, which will stop ordinary working families from being ripped off." 

Senior ministers rallied round Mrs May, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove - who ran against her in last year's leadership contest - saying the "entirety" of the Cabinet wanted her to stay. 

"She showed an amazing degree of resilience and courage this week, of a piece with the fantastic leadership she has shown through the time she has been Prime Minister," he said. 

Mrs May is supported by Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

Former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson tweeted "Last thing country needs is a leadership contest", urging colleagues to support the Prime Minister "in delivering Brexit".

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