Tory rebels plot against Rishi Sunak ahead of challenging local elections

Rishi Sunak is bracing for one of the toughest weeks of his premiership as Tory rebels plot to oust him in anticipation of disastrous local elections results.

A group of restive Conservative MPs have drawn up a “policy blitz” for a potential successor, compounding the Prime Minister’s woes days before his party is expected to suffer heavy losses in the local contests.

Mr Sunak has refused to rule out a July general election, amid speculation he could fire the starting gun early in a bid to avert a leadership battle.

Dan Poulter made the shock announcement that he was crossing the floor on Saturday as he accused the Government of “failing” the overstretched NHS.

Sir Keir Starmer will welcome Dr Poulter, a part-time NHS doctor, as Labour’s newest MP on Monday in a blow to the Prime Minister.

The defection prompted a faction of unhappy Tory MPs to release a five-point plan to follow the removal of Mr Sunak, with “quick-win” measures aimed at turning around the party’s fortunes under a new leader before a general election.

The policies include reducing legal migration, cutting the benefits bill, hiking defence spending to 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) and giving junior doctors a pay rise of up to 12%.

Dan Poulter Labour defection
Dan Poulter signing his Labour Party membership form with Ellie Reeves, Labour’s deputy national campaign co-ordinator (Labour Party/PA)

Most of the seats up for re-election were last contested in 2021, at the peak of Boris Johnson’s popularity as the Covid-19 vaccine was rolled out.

But the possible defeat of the two most high-profile Tory regional mayors – Andy Street in the West Midlands and Tees Valley’s Ben Houchen – is what could ultimately push wavering Tories into submitting letters of no confidence in Mr Sunak, with 52 needed to trigger a vote.

Reports suggested some rebels were seeking to instal Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt as his successor, though a source close to the Cabinet minister dismissed claims of her involvement as “total hogwash”.

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, also seen as a potential leadership contender, this weekend called for net migration to be curbed to the tens of thousands.

The manoeuvring came as Mr Sunak repeatedly declined to rule out calling a July general election.

(PA Graphics)

Most Westminster analysts expect this to mean October or November, but a drubbing in the local contests could force Mr Sunak’s hand.

The Prime Minister told Sir Trevor that “local elections are always difficult for incumbent parties”, as he sought to highlight Labour administrations’ problems in London and Birmingham City Council.

Mr Sunak sought to bolster his premiership last week with a flurry of announcements, including the passing of Rwanda asylum legislation and a pledge to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by 2030.

But Conservative rebels said it was time to put an end to “broken pledges”, and that their 100-day plan, “with the right messenger”, was the only way to avoid an electoral wipeout.

A Tory rebel source said: “The country has had enough of broken pledges and distant plans for change or bans they never asked for. It’s a plan for 100 days to show the government is taking action and cares about what matters to the British people – the NHS, immigration, getting our economy going by getting people back into work quickly and making our country safer and more secure.

“No more tinkering, dithering or managerialism – these are policies that can be introduced in a few months and then go to the country for people to make a decision.

“We’ve got to be clear and bold in our plan, and with the right messenger, to have any chance of winning, otherwise it could be two or three terms of Labour.”

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