Open Brexit warfare as Boris Johnson takes on May at Conference

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May reacts as she listens from her seat in the audience in the main hall on the first day of the Conservative Party Conference 2018 at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham

Theresa May at Conservative party conference watching ministers hold forth from the main stage Credit BEN STANSALL /AFP

Asked what impact it would have on Mrs May's keynote speech tomorrow, Mr Davis said: 'It's a different speech, she's the prime minister, she's got to give a serious speech about the future of not just Brexit but all the other elements of the domestic strategy - which of course Boris was talking about too.

"We've had our arguments, but now is the time to put them behind us, now is the time to come together, because this is a moment for the optimists", he said.

And he urged Tory delegates to persuade the prime minister to "chuck Chequers" and return to the hard Brexit blueprint she first set out in her Lancaster House speech, when she said she would take the United Kingdom out of the customs union, single market and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

"If we cheat the electorate - and Chequers is a cheat - we will escalate the sense of mistrust".

Johnson, the figurehead for the campaign to leave the European Union and the bookmakers' favourite to replace May, has become the loudest critic, warning Conservatives that if they supported Chequers they could be signing up to the party's electoral death.

If the EU tries to "lock us in via the back door" by keeping Britain in the bloc's single market or customs union, "then we will be left with no choice but to leave without a deal", he said.

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'We must show everyone in this country that we are that party.

Barely a month has gone by when there is not speculation of a plot against her, much of it focused around Johnson, a leading Brexit campaigner and former mayor of London.

"I passionately believe that our best days lie ahead of us and that our future is full of promise", she will say.

"As a government we are preparing for any eventuality but I think it would be sub-optimal", he said at a fringe event on Tuesday evening.

Some of Johnson's supporters, while welcoming his speech, said they believed now was not the time to launch a leadership bid against May.

Michael Edwards from Hastings, a Tory member for 40 years, said Johnson gave an "inspiring speech".

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"Am I disappointed [that he didn't declare]?"

The prime minister will also launch an attack on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, claiming millions of non-Tory voters were anxious about "what he has done to Labour".

Hard Brexit backers - led by former foreign secretary Boris Johnson - consider the plan a sellout of Brexit because it keeps Britain tied to the EU. "No, because I think we probably can't have the self-indulgence of a leadership challenge".

Ranting before MEPs on Tuesday, arch-liberal and federalist Guy Verhofstadt also personally attacked senior members of the Tory Party and rejected proposals from leadership favourite Boris Johnson to extend the Article 50 process.

Even former Brexit minister David Davis, a fellow eurosceptic who describes Johnson as a "great mate", said many of his ideas "are good headlines but not necessarily good policies".

"Chequers has failed, it's not realistic, it doesn't deliver on the Brexit my constituents vote for".

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