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Trade minister Fox urges mutinous MPs to lay off May

British Prime Minister Theresa May attends a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Schiefelbein/Pool

BEIJING (Reuters) - British Trade Minister Liam Fox on Thursday urged lawmakers to take a different view of Prime Minister Theresa May, seeking to play up her international achievements and calm growing criticism of her leadership.

May, the leader of a fragile minority government, is under intense pressure from rival factions within her Conservative Party over her approach to Brexit and perceived weaknesses in her broader leadership of the country.

The speculation has reached fever pitch in recent days, with the number of lawmakers formally calling for her to go reportedly nearing the threshold to trigger a leadership contest. The official number is not disclosed by the party.

But Fox, speaking during a trade visit to China with May, called on party colleagues to stop obsessing about domestic politics and take note of how she is viewed by leaders overseas.

“They look at the Prime Minister in a different way than some of, let’s say, the internal tea room discussions in the UK do,” he told the BBC, referring to the private tea rooms in parliament historically used by lawmakers to plot and gossip.

“I do wish more of my party colleagues have seen the sort of leadership and commitment and positive agenda that’s been projected for Britain here in China,” Fox said in a separate interview with ITN.

The endorsement from Fox - seen as a loyal member of cabinet, but one who is strongly aligned with so-called “Brexiteers” - comes after May announced steps towards closer trade cooperation with China.

However, questions on her future have overshadowed the trip, prompting May to declare “I’m not a quitter” - the second time during her 18 months in power she has deployed the phrase to try and play down speculation she could quit or be toppled.

“I will give full support to the prime minister as long as she wants to lead my party,” Fox told ITN.

Reporting by William James; Editing by Clarence Fernandez