Monday 24 July 2017

'B****cks' - Ruth Davidson dismisses reports of a planned Scottish Tory breakaway

Theresa May vows to fight on following humiliating General Election result

Scottish Conservative Leader Ruth Davidson. Picture: PA
Scottish Conservative Leader Ruth Davidson. Picture: PA

Ruth Davidson has dismissed a suggestion she will seek to break the Scottish Conservatives away from the UK party following a humiliating General Election result for Theresa May.

The Daily Telegraph reported that aides for Ms Davidson were working on a deal that would see the Scottish party split from the UK party.

It follows the Scottish Tories recording their best result in a general election for more than three decades on Thursday, with their tally of MPs increased from one to 13.

Writing on Twitter, the Scottish Tory leader dismissed the newspaper claim as "b****cks".

"Folk might remember I fought a leadership election on the other side of that particular argument," she added.

Ms Davidson was elected as leader of the Scottish Conservatives in 2011 after opposing a similar plan put forward by rival Murdo Fraser, now the party's finance spokesman.

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: PA
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: PA

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme, he said: "I saw that piece in the Telegraph with some interest and it rang some bells for some things I said a few years ago but I'm assured that there's not a lot of truth in this particular story."

Ms Davidson has said she has received assurances from the Prime Minister over gay rights should the Tories do a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, and has urged Mrs May to put the economy first by pursuing an "open" Brexit.

Mr Fraser said having a larger group of MPs in Westminster would "make a huge difference" to the influence of the Scottish Conservatives on issues including Brexit.

Read more:

If the EU negotiators decide a harder Brexit suits them, it's now hard to see where the resistance will come from. Picture: Reuters
If the EU negotiators decide a harder Brexit suits them, it's now hard to see where the resistance will come from. Picture: Reuters

"What you'll see is the new group of Scottish Conservatives arguing for what is in the interest of Scottish communities and Scottish business.

"I think we can have a tremendous amount of leverage."

He repeated calls for the SNP to "drop indyref2" in the wake of the party losing 21 Westminster seats, including those of former first minister Alex Salmond and SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has conceded her plans for a second vote were "undoubtedly" a factor in the result and has said she will reflect on the results.

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

Scotland's Finance and Constitution Secretary Derek Mackay, who directed the SNP's election campaign, told the same programme: "The First Minister has said that she'll reflect on the result but the fact that another Tory government that Scotland has not elected will rule over us with policies that Scotland just doesn't support I think has been another lesson on why Scotland should have a choice.

"Of course we'll listen and reflect, it's too premature to say what we'll do next around that."

The Scottish Daily Telegraph's Alan Cochrane said: "The story was impeccably sourced and I stand by every word."

Warning

A Conservative former cabinet minister has warned his party against the "chaos" of a leadership contest as it could further delay resolving Brexit matters.

Owen Paterson said Theresa May was right "despite all the disappointments" to try to find a way to govern with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party given that the Tories won the most seats and most votes.

But the MP was less sure about how Mrs May could continue to rule in such a manner, saying "let's see how it pans out" when asked.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, the former Northern Ireland secretary told broadcaster John Humphrys: "We are nine days off from the Brexit talks starting, we've had two horrific security incidents, and to cast the Tory Party into yet another leadership contest I think would be very unwise.

"John, personally I wouldn't go and do it - I tempt you to go and talk to Brenda in Bristol..."

Mr Humphrys intervened: "She won't talk apparently, she's refusing all interviews. I don't know what that tells us of the state of the nation."

Read more: UK election shock: What do Irish people living in Britain really think?

Asked how long Mrs May would stay as PM, Mr Paterson replied: "Let's see how it pans out. There is an immediate problem to get a government fixed which has a workable majority so we can begin to work on Brexit.

"This is coming down the track, the train is approaching and we have to get that resolved.

"There has to be the Great Repeal Bill put through the Commons, and our neighbours want to know how the form is going to be.

"The other mega issue which came up the whole time, quite rightly, is the issue of right of abode for the EU citizens living here and our citizens living on the continent."

He said Mrs May and Brexit Secretary David Davis had made clear this issue was a priority, adding: "We want to get that resolved as rapidly as possible and to have the chaos and uncertainty of a leadership contest would put the whole issue on hold and I think that's really bad for the stability, not least because of the whole economics looking ahead, with the pound dropping and everything else.

"So I think she's right - despite all the disappointments, she's got the most seats, she's got the most votes by a long way and she's right to sit down and try to work this through."

Former Tory health minister Nicola Blackwood, defeated by the Liberal Democrats in Oxford West and Abingdon, said "no party has been a winner" at the election.

On Mrs May's future, Ms Blackwood told the same programme: "She has to have the right team around her but they need to support her and make sure they put aside partisanship right now because it's about making sure we survive the security challenges we face but also the Brexit negotiations."

Former Tory minister Gavin Barwell, who lost his Croydon Central seat to Labour, earlier said: "I don't think you can call a result where you have got a vote share up at nearly 43pc disastrous."

Reminded that the party had lost seats, Mr Barwell replied: "I'm not trying to pretend it's a triumph, clearly we didn't get the result we hoped to get. I'm just putting on record that she did better than (John) Major."

Asked if Mrs May has the authority to run the party and country, Mr Barwell said: "I believe there's a will in the Conservative Party to get behind her and support her.

Read more: Four questions asked about Brexit - and its impact on Ireland - following UK election result

"I think she's the best person to take Britain into these crucial Brexit negotiations that are going to be so important to the future of the country."

Former Tory leader Lord Hague said "very serious lessons" had to be learned by the party but warned against a leadership contest.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he said: "An overwhelmingly strong position at the time of the local elections on May 4 was turned into serious losses by June 8.

"The awful truth is that no party has given up such an advantageous situation with such speed in the modern electoral history of our country.

"Very serious lessons will have to be learnt from that.

"The Conservative campaign was strong on honesty and realism, but the next time the party enters a general election it will need to be just as strong on hope and vision for the future - and there's no reason it shouldn't be."

Stressing that a leadership battle was unwarranted, Lord Hague said: "Voters do not want further months of uncertainty and upheaval. They want to see ministers getting on with the job, while acknowledging democracy and their constrained circumstances."

Choosing top team

Theresa May is set to name the rest of her top team on Saturday after a humiliating showing in the general election left her authority as Prime Minister weakened.

Mrs May had limited room for manoeuvre after her presidential-style campaign saw the Tories shed seats and fall eight MPs short of a Commons majority.

After speculation the PM would use a solid win in the election to move Philip Hammond from the Treasury, he and other potential successors as Tory leader, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, remained in place.

With Brexit Secretary David Davis and Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon also staying put, there were suggestions changes could just centre on replacing the eight ministers who lost their seats as the Tory Commons tally fell to 318.

Mrs May's decision to seek a deal with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and the role of her two closest advisers in the faltering election campaign drew criticism in Tory ranks.

In an apparent side-swipe at a hook-up with the DUP, a party which strongly opposes marriage equality, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson tweeted a link to a speech she made in Belfast in support of same-sex marriage.

Ms Davidson, who became engaged to partner Jen Wilson in May 2016, later said she had received assurances from the PM over gay rights.

She told the BBC: "I was fairly straightforward with her (Mrs May) and I told her that there were a number of things that count to me more than the party.

"One of them is country, one of the others is LGBTI rights.

Read more: Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley scout Frankfurt offices for potential post-Brexit trading hub

"I asked for a categoric assurance that if any deal or scoping deal was done with the DUP there would be absolutely no rescission of LGBTI rights in the rest of the UK, in Great Britain, and that we would use any influence that we had to advance LGBTI rights in Northern Ireland."

With talks between the Tories and the DUP expected to begin within days, Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey expressed concern about the impact of any deal on the peace process.

He told BBC Newsnight: "I think this current arrangement may well prove to be reckless, but we will have to wait and see.

"We will expect the British Government to honour their commitments in respect of the Good Friday Agreement. And that means they have to remain neutral. We will watch what's happening very carefully."

Former minister Anna Soubry called on Mrs May to sack her joint chiefs of staff, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, after she complained about their central roles in the campaign.

Amid reports that senior Tories were sounding out potential replacements for Mrs May, prominent Conservative MP Heidi Allen said the Prime Minister had six months at most left in Downing Street.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling sprang to Mrs May's defence, insisting she needed to stay in office for the national interest.

He told BBC Question Time: "Not only must she not resign, she has to not resign in the interest of the country because we need to move forward, we have got to go into the Brexit negotiations."

Asked if Mrs May should lead the Tories into the next election, Mr Grayling said: "The next election is a question for her. My view is we need her to stay as Prime Minister and stay as Prime Minister for the foreseeable future."

Pressed that Mrs May now had no mandate for her Brexit vision, Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Newsnight: "You're absolutely right and to pretend otherwise would be insulting your viewers. But she is also a democrat. She will accept the outcome of this election. We are the largest party, we can govern."

A strong showing for Labour in the election was capped when the party snatched the final seat to declare, Kensington, by just 20 votes.

The win took Labour's tally to 262 MPs as Jeremy Corbyn's party soared to a 40% share of the popular vote.

Mr Corbyn called on Mrs May to stand aside and let Labour form a minority administration in light of the election results.

The Liberal Democrats gained four seats to stand at 12 MPs, but saw former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg ousted from the Commons.

The SNP saw its tally fall from the 56 seats it secured two years ago to 35, while Ukip leader Paul Nuttall quit after a disastrous showing for the party.

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