Cairns's denial of Welsh Tory leadership plot 'misleading'

By James Williams
BBC Wales political correspondent

image captionAlun Cairns had said the text was about a UKIP politician, not Mr Davies

The Welsh secretary's claim there was "no plot from Westminster" to oust the Conservative assembly group leader was "misleading", party sources say.

A text accidentally sent by Alun Cairns suggested doing "all to force him out now", BBC Wales can reveal.

Mr Cairns had claimed the message related to ex-UKIP politician Mark Reckless, not Andrew RT Davies. Mr Davies stepped down as leader in June.

Mr Cairns did not wish to respond to the BBC's request for a comment.

Conservative sources have said his previous statement about the text, sent in spring 2017, "requires clarification".

In an interview with BBC Wales' Sunday Politics programme in July, Mr Cairns, Tory MP for the Vale of Glamorgan, said the text referred to ousting Mark Reckless - an independent AM and former Conservative MP - from the Welsh Conservative assembly group.

Mr Reckless had upset others in his former party by defecting to UKIP prior to a Conservative conference.

In July Mr Cairns said: "The text we're talking about related to Mark Reckless and the wish in order to see him go after the local elections that were taking place at the time, not any other outcome.

"I spoke to Andrew immediately after that, and I did on an ongoing basis and I worked closely with him right up until he decided that he was leaving."

image captionThe text accidentally sent by Alun Cairns

Mr Cairns said there was "no secret" about the text given the "discontent" about Mr Reckless joining the Tory group.

In the text, Mr Cairns mentions that Nick Bourne, a UK government minister in the House of Lords and ex-leader of Conservative AMs was "not happy with trying to keep a lid on it, with our agreed line."

It goes on to read: "He thinks we should do all to force him out now. I am aware of a lot of history between the two."

In a statement, Mr Reckless dismissed having any history with Lord Bourne: "I have never had any dealings with Nick Bourne.

"I know he was made a Lords minister while I was an MP, but don't recall meeting him," he added.

image captionAndrew RT Davies quit as Welsh Conservative assembly group leader in June

Lord Bourne told BBC Wales he did not want to comment.

In light of that statement, Welsh Conservative sources told BBC Wales: "Ultimately the secretary of state's comments were inaccurate and misleading, presumably to conceal his own involvement in plans to oust Andrew Davies from his position.

"That clearly requires clarification."

A contest is underway to chose a new Conservative assembly group leader with the winner due to be announced on 6 September.

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