Rishi Sunak insists Tories are ‘absolutely united’ despite rumoured plot to depose him

The prime minister said he was focused on improving the economy rather than ‘Westminster politics’ as he attempted to dismiss speculation of a coup

Zoe Grunewald
Monday 18 March 2024 19:11 GMT
Former defence secretary Ben Wallace said it was too late for his colleagues to choose another leader

Rishi Sunak has insisted that the Conservatives are united despite rampant speculation about a plot to replace him as prime minister before the general election.

The Tory leader claimed he was “not interested” in “Westminster politics” and that “all Conservatives are united in wanting to deliver a brighter future for our country” as he attempted to bat off rumours about an apparent ousting plot.

Mr Sunak endured a disastrous week of warning shots from colleagues, dire opinion poll ratings and the defection of his former deputy chairman to Reform UK.

Now it is rumoured that Conservative MPs are considering replacing him with Commons leader Penny Mordaunt in an attempt to avoid a crushing general election defeat.

Rishi Sunak was quizzed about a Tory plot to trigger a leadership contest (PA Wire)

Asked during a visit to the West Midlands why he did not let one of his “disloyal colleagues” have the “poisoned chalice” of being prime minister, Mr Sunak said: “I’m not interested in all Westminster politics. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the future of our country. And that’s what I am squarely focused on.

“That’s what I get up every morning, working as hard as I can, to deliver – whether it’s cutting people’s taxes, increasing the state pension… today, increasing the number of apprenticeships and talking to small businesses.

He added: “Those are the things that matter to people. And as we have seen over the last few weeks, our plan is working. Inflation is coming down, wages are growing and the economy is back to growing again.”

Highlighting tax cuts, state pension increases and progress on tackling illegal migration as things that matter to people, Mr Sunak added: “We are absolutely united in delivering for the country on these important matters.”

Mr Sunak insisted that the country has “turned a corner” and is starting to see an economic uplift.

“We have really turned the corner at the start of this year. Inflation has been more than halved. Mortgage rates, energy bills falling, wages are rising, consumer confidence, business confidence increasing,” he said.

His comments came as business secretary Kemi Badenoch told plotting colleagues to “stop messing around” and end the “Westminster psychodrama”.

Kemi Badenoch told her colleagues to ‘stop messing around and get behind the prime minister’ (PA Wire)

Ms Badenoch suggested “one or two MPs” are behind the Westminster rumours and they should not be allowed to “dominate the news narrative”.

She told BBC Breakfast: “I’m sure if Penny was here, she would be distancing herself from those comments.”

Ms Mordaunt has not publicly commented on reports about a bid to elevate her to the Tory leadership, but a source close to her rejected them as “nonsense”.

On LBC Radio, Ms Badenoch said: “People need to stop messing around and get behind the prime minister.”

She also insisted she was fully behind the PM and said she had “shut down” rumours about her own leadership ambitions.

But “there will always be people who will speculate on your behalf”, she added.

Ms Badenoch, who ran for the Tory leadership in 2022, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I have made it very clear that Rishi Sunak is the person who is going to lead the country into the election.

“I support him fully.”

Former defence secretary and Tory grandee Ben Wallace has also thrown his weight behind the prime minister, warning that there is “no other alternative” candidate.

Ben Wallace has called on his colleagues to ‘march towards the sound of the guns’ (PA Archive)

Mr Wallace, who has announced his intention to step down as an MP at the next election, called on his colleagues to “march towards the sound of the guns” and put an end to the speculation that they might force a leadership contest.

Speaking to Times Radio, he said: “There comes a moment in time in the electoral cycle where you effectively put on your best suit, you stand up and you march towards the sound of the guns and you get on with it.

“There is no other alternative. And that’s just the reality of it. And some of those people missed the boat. Maybe it’s what they wanted, something different. But ultimately, the only victor of this type of shenanigans is the Labour Party. But actually, look: we are 14 years into a government, time to put our best case forward, whenever that may be.”

Mr Sunak is set to face another difficult week as his flagship Rwanda bill returns to the House of Commons, and the row over alleged “racist” comments made by Tory donor Frank Hester continues to rage.

Mr Hester is alleged to have said that former MP Diane Abbott made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

Asked whether the party would accept another £5m from Mr Hester on top of the £10m already donated, Mr Sunak said: “He’s already apologised for these comments.

“And my point of view is when someone apologises genuinely, expresses remorse – that should be accepted. And that’s that.”

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