Tories 'need to stop messing around and get behind the Prime Minister,' Business Secretary tells LBC

18 March 2024, 08:44

Kemi Badenoch responds to claims that Penny Mordaunt could be the new Conservative leader

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch has urged those Conservative MPs working to oust Rishi Sunak from No 10 before the next election to stop being "obsessed with Westminster psychodrama".

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With the fear of losing their parliamentary seats growing among many Conservatives, there's speculation that a faction is considering Penny Mordaunt, the Leader of the House of Commons, as a replacement for Rishi Sunak ahead of a national election.

Asked by Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on LBC what her message was to the plotters, the Tory Cabinet minister said: "I have said many times that people need to stop messing around and get behind the Prime Minister.

"But I think at this particular time, it is really important that we remember that there are thousands of councillors all around the country who are going to be standing for election in May. We need people to focus on what they have been doing to help their local communities and not be obsessed with Westminster psychodrama.

"So it is actually important that we help demonstrate, especially for those Conservative councillors who I want to see re-elected, what the Government has been doing.

"I'm here in Coventry in the West Midlands, look at what is happening with auto, they have had so much investment under (Conservative West Midlands mayor) Andy Street

"That is what I want people to know about rather than who said what in the tea room in Parliament. It is just Westminster bubble gossip, it is not important."

Read more: ‘Rishi Sunak will lead us into the next election’: Minister dismisses ‘plot’ to crown Penny Mordaunt as party leader

Read more: Government suspends tariffs on key imports to boost SMEs launching £660 million northern powerhouse fund

Rishi Sunak is facing another tough week
Rishi Sunak is facing another tough week. Picture: Getty

Rishi Sunak has pledged that 2024 "will be the year Britain bounces back," ahead of a series of announcements on investments in the Northern Powerhouse fund and measures to slash red tape for businesses.

This comes as he anticipates a challenging week with the return of his Rwanda Bill to the Commons and a meeting with the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs.

Sunak anticipates "more progress" against inflation with the upcoming release of new data by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday.

He expressed optimism, noting significant economic indicators are now favourable. "This year, 2024, will be the year Britain bounces back," he affirmed, highlighting the Office for Budget Responsibility's prediction of inflation reaching its 2% target sooner than expected.

Rishi Sunak’s job is under threat from a plot of backbench Tory MPs who want to replace him with Penny Mordaunt before the general election.
Rishi Sunak’s job is under threat from a plot of backbench Tory MPs who want to replace him with Penny Mordaunt before the general election. Picture: Alamy

Meanwhile, senior Tories have sought to downplay reports of backbench plotting, with Mr Harper insisting Mr Sunak "will take us into that election".

"I'm going to be supporting him all the way through, and I'm confident that my colleagues will," he told Sky News, adding that "politics is a team game".

Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told MPs to "stop turning inwards on ourselves".

Ms Mordaunt has not publicly commented on claims about an effort to elevate her to the Tory leadership, but a source close to her rejected them as "nonsense".

The febrile mood within the party came after a bruising few days for the Prime Minister, with the defection of Lee Anderson, whom Mr Sunak had promoted to Tory deputy chairman, to the right-wing populist Reform UK party and his Budget failing to boost the Tories' dire polling figures.

Mr Sunak also came under fire over his handling of racist comments allegedly made by major party donor Frank Hester.

The Prime Minister will seek to calm nerves and shore up his position when he addresses the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs on Wednesday.

One senior ally told the Times Mr Sunak would sooner call a general election than be forced into a leadership contest.

He is also under pressure from Labour and the Liberal Democrats to name the date for the election after he ruled out holding it on May 2.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey told his party's spring conference on Sunday that Mr Sunak "sounds like he's already given up" and accused him of "outrageously running down the clock" and "squatting" in No 10.

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