Right-wing Tories plotting to replace Rishi Sunak with Penny Mordaunt

Disparate Tory factions are said to have met to discuss ‘coronation’ of Penny Mordaunt as fourth Tory leader since last election

Andy Gregory
Saturday 16 March 2024 13:28 GMT
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A number of factions of the Conservative Party are reported to have held discussions about replacing Rishi Sunak as prime minister – and uniting around Penny Mordaunt instead.

In a desperate bid to boost their dire electoral prospects, MPs on the Tory right have met with both moderates and members of Ms Mordaunt’s team this week, according to The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

The mutinous Tories are said to have discussed replacing the prime minister in a “coronation” following a no-confidence vote, as opposed to putting their party and country through another leadership contest ahead of the looming general election, after Mr Sunak finally ruled out a May ballot.

Mutinous Tories are said to have discussed replacing the prime minister in a ‘coronation’ following a no-confidence vote (Getty)

They are said to be hoping that a new cabinet resignation will trigger the collapse of Mr Sunak’s premiership and usher in the party’s fourth leader since the last election – despite the fact that the recent departure of moderate-turned-hardliner Robert Jenrick from his post as immigration minister failed to inspire others to follow suit.

The outlook among Tory MPs darkened this week after the Budget failed to make a dent in polling, which has recently put support for their party at a 40-year low, and as No 10 struggled to deal with the fallout from allegations that racist remarks were made by major donor Frank Hester. Mr Sunak eventually condemned the comments as “racist and wrong” after cabinet ministers broke ranks to do so.

Some Tory MPs were baffled by Mr Sunak’s speech on extremism outside No 10 following George Galloway’s by-election victory, while others were exasperated by his failure to anticipate former deputy chair Lee Anderson’s defection to Reform, claimed GB News, quoting one as saying: “The sad reality is he’s just not very good at politics.”

A source on the Tory right told the Telegraph: “Some Right-wing MPs met with Team Penny this week, where they expressed the view they were prepared to back her. They take the view that Penny is preferable to Rishi Sunak right now.”

The source added: “Penny Mordaunt is now seen as the most likely person to stem the losses.” Ms Mordaunt, currently the leader of the House of Commons, was the last to fall to Mr Sunak and eventual victor Liz Truss in the 2021 Tory leadership race, since when her profile has been somewhat boosted by her sword-wielding role in the coronation.

Penny Mordaunt carrying the sword of state at the coronation of King Charles III in May 2023 (PA)

A spokesperson for Ms Mordaunt told the paper: “Penny is getting on with the job of serving the nation as leader of the House of Commons and serving her constituents in Portsmouth North.”

While Ms Mordaunt has previously lacked the support of some Tory right-wingers who view her as too liberal on transgender rights, despite her protestations to the contrary, a rebel source claimed a deal was emerging in which they could support her if she “sub-contracts” the issue to them, according to the Telegraph.

“The mood has shifted a long way this week,” the source said. “There is a feeling that we cannot go on as we are, and that even Penny would be better.

“She would have to allow social policy to be set by others, but if you got over that hurdle, you could see the right prepared to swing behind her if it was the only way to get rid of Rishi and avoid a contest.”

A former minister on the moderate wing of the party also told the paper that replacing Mr Sunak was becoming “much more likely” – and that Ms Mordaunt was the only candidate the party could unite around without a contest.

The source said: “Until very recently, I thought the idea of changing leader again was ridiculous. But No 10’s handling of some recent events has been so astonishingly bad that I think it is becoming much more likely to happen.”

Last week, Ms Mordaunt overtook fellow leadership favourite Kemi Badenoch to top the cabinet popularity rankings in the Conservative Home website’s regular survey of Tory members for the first time since June 2019, when she was defence secretary.

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