Sunak urges Tories to stick with him - as senior allies rage at suggestions of Mordaunt coup for leadership

18 March 2024, 00:01

Mark Harper dismisses 'plot' to replace Rishi Sunak as prime minister

By Chay Quinn

Rishi Sunak insists that Britain will 'bounce back' this year as he tells Tory rebels that he will call a general election rather than be forced out of office by his party.

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The Prime Minister told the Times that there is a "real sense the economy is turning a corner" after claims that the Tories are plotting to replace him with Penny Mordaunt before the next general election.

Sunak told the paper that he thinks that the combination of the Rwanda scheme being enacted and a brighter economic outlook could help him reverse his dire polling fortunes.

One ally told the Times that Sunak is "increasingly determined to prove his point and establish his own mandate".

The source added: "You don't get to achieve the things he's done without some steel. He's not just going to roll over."

Transport Secretary Mark Harper insisted the Prime Minister's "plan is working" as he batted away the claims.

Asked by LBC's Mathew Wright if he would support Commons leader Penny Mordaunt as the next prime minister, Mr Harper said: “No I totally wouldn’t, Rishi Sunak is going to lead us into the next general election and he’s going to put forward a fantastic choice between- we are a government with a plan that is working, we’re bringing down inflation [sic].

“The working assumption is that the election is going to be at the back-end of the year and we can see that our plan is working.”

Defending Mr Sunak’s time in office, Mr Harper continued: “Inflation was 11.1% when Rishi Sunak became prime minister, it’s now 4%, it’s going in the right direction.”

Read more: Mordaunt links 'just bait for Tory moderates to trigger leadership election for Braverman or Badenoch'

Read more: Mordaunt lined up to replace Sunak - but only if she gives up control of trans issues to Tory right

Mark Harper said he would not support Ms Mordaunt as the next Conservative leader.
Mark Harper said he would not support Ms Mordaunt as the next Conservative leader. Picture: Alamy

It comes following reports that a group of right-wing Conservative MPs are engaged in a plot to oust Mr Sunak as Prime Minister with Ms Mordaunt as his replacement.

The MPs reportedly held a meeting with prominent supporters of Ms Mordaunt to discuss the plot as they hope she could minimise the party’s losses at the next election, The Telegraph reports.

The move would see the Tories rolling the dice on a fourth leader in just five years.

Ms Mordaunt has been tipped as a potential unifier in the party - as an alternative to controversial candidates Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman of the Tory right.

However, a report from the Sunday Telegraph today claimed that Ms Mordaunt was instead being used as a “stalking horse” to trigger a leadership election to install Suella Braverman or Kemi Badenoch as Tory leader before a general election.

It follows an alleged Tory plot to make Ms Mordaunt the next prime minister.
It follows an alleged Tory plot to make Ms Mordaunt the next prime minister. Picture: Alamy

The source, who described Ms Mordaunt as "an empty vessel", claimed that enthusiasm for Ms Mordaunt could spur centrist Tories into sending letters of no confidence in Mr Sunak - and trigger a leadership challenge.

It comes as 62 Tory MPs have announced they will be standing down from the party at the next election, meaning the party is on track for its biggest wave of departures since the 1997 Labour landslide.

LBC's political editor Natasha Clark previously reported that this is "just the tip of the iceberg" and a staggering 100 Tory MPs are to quit before the election is formally called.

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey became the latest MP to announce he would not be standing earlier this week, who is though to have been frustrated by the levels of defence spending.

Meanwhile, former deputy chairman Lee Anderson announced he had defected to Reform UK after losing the Tory whip over an Islamophobia row.

The latest opinion polls show that Labour currently holds a 20 percentage point lead ahead of the Tories.

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