Tory plot to take sword to Sunak and make Mordaunt PM

Desperate Tory rebels have hatched a ‘100 days to save Britain’ plan which would see Rishi Sunak replaced if the party suffers drastic losses in this week’s local elections

Archie Mitchell
Sunday 28 April 2024 19:00 BST
Rishi Sunak refuses to rule out July general election

Rishi Sunak is facing a plot by desperate right-wing Tory MPs planning to ditch the prime minister and replace him with Penny Mordaunt to avoid an electoral wipeout, it is claimed.

After the prime minister was dealt a blow by the defection of former minister Dr Dan Poulter, Tory rebels hatched a “100 days to save Britain” plan whereby Ms Mordaunt – best known for wielding a ceremonial sword at the King’s coronation – would become PM.

The extraordinary idea is reportedly in response to fears that the party could suffer massive losses in this week’s local elections, with the MPs planning a series of “quick wins” to ready Mr Sunak’s successor for a general election this autumn.

The rebels are said to believe that if Commons leader Ms Mordaunt took power and launched a series of right-wing initiatives on tax, immigration and other issues, it could avert a Labour landslide in the election later this year.

One Tory rebel told the Sunday Telegraph: “The reality is that we are facing an extinction-level event. It’s for colleagues to decide if they want to go down with the ship.”

However, Ms Mordaunt is understood to have said that speculation about her is “codswallop”. Mainstream Conservatives say a lurch to the right would make the party even less popular.

And Ms Mordaunt’s Tory critics say that, aside from winning plaudits for her impressive style at the coronation, she lacks political skills.

A Tory MP told The Times: “My concern is that we don’t have a significant response to Reform. We have a leader who is ill-suited to appealing to voters in the red wall. He is seen as an out-of-touch multimillionaire who doesn’t share their instincts. If we lose Tees Valley [in the mayoral election] it will be beyond diabolical.”

The five-point plan includes efforts to end the junior doctors’ pay dispute, cut net migration, boost defence spending, slash the benefits bill, and bring in tougher sentences for serious offenders.

And ahead of what could be a make-or-break week for Mr Sunak’s premiership, the prime minister again refused to rule out going to the country this summer, keeping the door open to a July general election.

Amid speculation that a disastrous set of local election results for the Tories could force his hand, Mr Sunak would not “say anything more than I’ve already said” on the date of the next election.

He has previously said it will take place in the second half of 2024. But some see him keeping the option open as a way to deter potential plotters.

Rishi Sunak has declined to rule out a July poll
Rishi Sunak has declined to rule out a July poll (PA Wire)

The general election is expected to be held in October or November, although there is mounting speculation a contest could come as early as July.

Grant Shapps has warned agitating Tory MPs against ousting Mr Sunak and said the prime minister should be left to “get on with the job”.

The defence secretary said Mr Sunak should be “given the space” he needs to continue in the role. “He’s doing a great job – he’s doing it under difficult circumstances,” said Mr Shapps.

But a drubbing in mayoral and council elections on 2 May could either lead to a challenge to Mr Sunak’s leadership or persuade him that an earlier polling day could be a better solution than limping on with a divided party.

The defection of a Conservative former health minister to Labour could further spook already restive Tory MPs and increase the pressure on the prime minister.

Mr Poulter on Saturday announced he was quitting the Tory party, which he accused of no longer prioritising the overstretched NHS.

Mr Sunak was asked on Sky’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips programme – recorded before Dr Poulter’s shock defection – whether the latter half of 2024 could mean July.

Dr Dan Poulter signing his Labour membership form with Ellie Reeves, the party’s deputy national campaign co-ordinator
Dr Dan Poulter signing his Labour membership form with Ellie Reeves, the party’s deputy national campaign co-ordinator (PA Media)

The prime minister said: “I’m not going to say anything more than I’ve already said – I’ve been very clear about that.”

Pressed repeatedly over whether he was ruling out July, he said: “I’m not going to do that.

“You’re going to try and draw whatever conclusion you want from what I say. I’m going to always try and say the same thing. You should just listen to what I said, [the] same thing I’ve said all year.”

When presenter Sir Trevor said he wanted to know when to book his summer holidays, Mr Sunak replied: “Actually, Trevor, it’s more important than your holiday or anyone’s holiday. I’ve got a job to do, which is delivering for the country.

“And as we’ve been talking about, we are delivering when it comes to tackling illegal migration. We’re delivering when it comes to investing in our defence.”

The full interview will air on Sky News on Sunday morning.

In less than a week, the Tories are expected to lose around half of their council seats, while their two most high-profile regional mayors face difficult contests.

Some analysts believe defeats for West Midlands mayor Andy Street and Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen could lead to the prime minister facing a no-confidence vote, with 52 Tory MPs needed to trigger the move.

There were rumours swirling in Westminster on Friday that Mr Sunak could fire the starting gun on an election campaign as soon as Monday in a bid to thwart a possible challenge, though Downing Street brushed them off.

The latest possible date he could hold the election is 28 January 2025.

Mr Sunak sought to bolster his premiership this week with a flurry of announcements, including the passing of Rwanda asylum legislation and a pledge to spend 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product on defence by 2030.

A BMG survey for the i newspaper suggested voters who backed the Conservatives in 2019, but have since deserted the party, would be more likely to vote Tory under a different leader.

Mr Sunak has already been accused of being a “chicken” and “squatting in Downing Street” after ruling out holding the election on 2 May.

The growing speculation comes as the Conservatives sit 21 points behind in the opinion polls. A series of polls have shown the party is heading for electoral oblivion, with even Mr Sunak at risk of losing his seat.

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