Rishi Sunak to urge Tory MPs plotting against him to ‘pull together’

The Prime Minister is set to urge his agitating backbenches to “pull together” and focus on the “improving” economic picture when he appears before them at a behind-closed-doors appearance.

Speculation is rife that rebel Conservative MPs are lining up potential successors to replace Rishi Sunak should he face a no confidence test before a general election.

With the Tories currently facing dire poll ratings, Mr Sunak could be facing a tough set of results at the local elections on May 2 and potentially further public calls for him to be deposed.

“He will be talking about the local elections and I’m sure they will be talking about that we have got to pull together to make sure Labour don’t do what they have done to Britain, what they have done to Birmingham,” said the political spokeswoman.

The Conservative Party leader has looked to make hay with the situation facing England’s second city, saying at Prime Minister’s Questions that “taxes are going up by 21%” and that “services are being cut” as the local authority looks to balance its books.

The Labour-run city council in Birmingham declared itself effectively bankrupt in September after identifying equal pay liabilities estimated at £760 million. It is now said to be on a “narrow path to financial sustainability”, dependent on budget cuts.

No 10, despite not being able to say if the Tories expected to make gains on May 2, was keen to shift the focus onto Labour and the local elections as Mr Sunak looks to quell dissenting voices in his own ranks.

Plotting rebels have reportedly talked up the prospect of Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt or security minister Tom Tugendhat, both of whom have previously featured in Tory leadership races, replacing Mr Sunak in Downing Street should he face a confidence vote.

Penny Mordaunt
Penny Mordaunt is being reportedly tipped as a unity candidate to replace Rishi Sunak (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

She told reporters on Tuesday she was “getting on with my job”.

Downing Street refused to say whether the Prime Minister had held talks with Ms Mordaunt since the reports first emerged over the weekend.

Mr Sunak’s press secretary said she would not “get into private discussions between colleagues” when asked whether the Prime Minister had spoken to Ms Mordaunt or those calling for a change of leader.

Cabinet minister Esther McVey gave Mr Sunak her full-throated backing, predicting that he would win any potential Tory confidence vote “by a country mile”.

The minister without portfolio told GB News that Ms Mordaunt’s chance of leading the party had “gone to bed” when she “didn’t win” either of the past two leadership battles.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary was asked by reporters if he was disappointed Ms Mordaunt had not firmly denied being part of a plot to replace him.

She replied: “What the Prime Minister wants is all of his Cabinet ministers and the wider Conservative team to focus on delivering for the country.

Downing Street said the latest inflation figures showed the UK’s economic picture was improving (Ben Birchall/PA)

Pressed on whether Mr Sunak thought his ministers were focused on that message, the press secretary replied: “Yes, absolutely.”

It was announced on Wednesday that UK inflation had fallen to its lowest level since September 21, with the rate dropping more than expected.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that Consumer Prices Index inflation stood at 3.4% in February – down from 4% in January. Most economists had been expecting inflation at 3.5% last month.

The Tories will be hoping the economic shift will aid its poor poll ratings, with Labour enjoying an average lead of about 20 points.

A further 2p cut in national insurance at the Budget failed to move the dial before the blows of former deputy party chairman Lee Anderson’s defection to Reform UK and a Tory donor racism row brought further unwanted headlines for Mr Sunak’s administration.

The languishing poll performance has fuelled Tory unease in a general election year.

Rishi Sunak visit to North East
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt appeared to hint October is under consideration for a general election date (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on Tuesday appeared to hint October is under consideration for a general election date.

Labour hit back at Mr Sunak and No 10’s criticism of the opposition party’s record at local and regional authority level.

A party spokesman said: “I could equally give you a list of Conservative councils where they have had to introduce double-digit council tax rises.

“Whether it is Thurrock, whether it is Woking, we saw the failure a few years ago at Northamptonshire County Council, we saw double digit rises in Croydon when it was under the control of the Tories.

“The idea that this is unique to one party is clearly not the case.

“What we are seeing is the result of the Government having massively underfunded local government as a whole and the responsibilities that local authorities have been left with in that situation to try and make the best of a very difficult situation.”

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