SHIPLEY MP Philip Davies has criticised a former Conservative Party co-chairman for "grandstanding" over calling for a leadership contest against Prime Minister Theresa May.

Mr Shapps, who has been revealed as one of the ringleaders of the plot to oust Mrs May, said there is a "broad spread" of opinion among Conservative MPs who believe they cannot carry on as they were.

He said that while ministers were publicly backing the Prime Minister, in private some believed she should go.

It is thought that around 30 Tory MPs are backing the calls for a leadership election - short of the 48 needed to force a contest under party rules.

Speaking on national radio today, Mr Shapps would not be drawn on the number but did confirm that he had the support of five former Cabinet ministers.

Mr Davies has denied he is one of the 30 and said his party should instead concentrate on the Brexit negotiations.

He said: "I have not spoken to Grant Shapps at all.

"It is not very helpful for people to grandstand in media studios, sticking the boot into the Prime Minister. I don't see the purpose that it serves.

"If Grant Shapps wants a change of leadership, there is a mechanism to do that. If people want a vote of no-confidence, they have a mechanism by writing to the 1922 Committee.

"Mrs May made it clear that she is not going to be Prime Minister at the next General Election."

Senior ministers continued to rally around Mrs May, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove - who ran against her in last year's leadership election - insisting there was no need for a contest.

"The Prime Minister has been doing a fantastic job," he told the Today programme.

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

Mr Shapps said the plan had been to approach Mrs May privately but the Government whips had leaked details to the Times.

"I am slightly surprised that the whips decided to brief a newspaper about it. That was their idea to smoke people out," he said.

"The intention was to be able to go to Mrs May with a list of names - probably with the former Cabinet ministers going to see her."

He added: "It will have to be her decision. I had rather hoped that we would be able to get to point where we could go to her privately and have this conversation; I am very sorry that the whips have not made this possible."

Mr Gove said the "overwhelming majority" of Tory MPs - including the "entirety" of the Cabinet - want Mrs May to carry on.

"The truth is that the overwhelming majority of people want the Prime Minister to concentrate on doing the job which 14 million people elected her to do earlier this year," he said.

"I think it would be disrespectful to those 14 million people to do anything other than concentrate on those areas where action is necessary."