“Soundings off” against Prime Minister Theresa May have to stop, former cabinet minister Justine Greening has told her Tory colleagues.
Ms Greening, who lost her job as education secretary in the reshuffle, said the PM needed support for almost “impossible” Brexit talks.
She also said university maintenance grants, replaced with loans by the Tory government, should be restored.
And she called for a re-think over student loan interest rates.
Brexit pressure on May
Ms Greening’s first interview since she lost her job came amid backbench criticism of Theresa May about Brexit and policy direction.
Over the weekend one Tory MP tweeted “we need to get a grip and lead” while another urged “less policy making by tortoise”.
And as Brexit talk focuses on the transition period planned for immediately after Brexit on 29 March 2019, there have been warnings from Conservative Eurosceptics that the UK will stay in the EU “in all but name”.
BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith said Tory Brexiteers had by and large stuck by Mrs May so far, but were now becoming concerned that the compromises being suggested could be the “prelude to a sell-out”.
Former Tory minister and leading Brexit supporter John Redwood told BBC Radio Berkshire Mrs May had been too “friendly and encouraging to the EU” so far, and called on her to take “a firmer line”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Greening said she remained a “firm supporter” of Mrs May.
“The soundings off have to stop,” she said.
“I think they need to stop and I think people need to get behind her.
“I think she is doing an important job for our country. We need to support her in that impossible, almost, task that she has negotiating Brexit.”
Greening on losing her job
During the reshuffle earlier this month, Mrs May had wanted to move Mrs Greening to the Department for Work and Pensions, but she refused and quit the government instead.
She said it was “absolutely” the prime minister’s prerogative to carry out a reshuffle, and that she had turned down the move because she felt “passionately about social mobility”.
Since her departure, Ms Greening has been accused by the PM’s former adviser Nick Timothy of blocking moves to reduce tuition fees in her old job.
Asked about this, Ms Greening said she had opposed a review into cutting the maximum level of fees that can be charged, suggesting this would have kicked the issue “into the long grass”.
She warned that variable tuition fees could lead to science, technology, engineering and maths degrees becoming more expensive with poorer students feeling they ought to focus on “cheaper” subjects.
And she said it was “wrong” that poorer students were the main losers from the scrapping of maintenance grants.
The £3,387 grants towards living costs were available to students from families with annual incomes of £25,000.
“I think we have to have a student finance system that’s progressive, not regressive,” Ms Greening said.
MP’s ‘swivel-eyed’ text revealed
Not all Conservative MPs agree on the best way forward on Brexit, and a government minister has said her passions “spilled over” when she described some critics as “swivel-eyed”.
The Daily Telegraph revealed that Claire Perry had used the term about people calling colleagues “traitors” in the row about how much the UK should pay as it leaves the EU.
Responding on WhatsApp to colleague Ben Bradley who said the “usual suspects” were criticising him, she reportedly replied: “The ‘sell out traitor mob’ should be ignored. Listening to them means wrecking the economy in the short term and via a Corbyn government delivering a long steady slow decline for the country we love.
“I would hypothesise that they are mostly elderly retired men who do not have mortgages, school-aged children or caring responsibilities so they represent the swivel-eyed few not the many we represent.”
The energy minister responded to the story on Twitter:
Environment Secretary and Brexit campaigner Michael Gove backed Ms Perry, saying she was a “superb minister” and a privilege to work with.