• Sunday, April 21, 2024

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More pressure on Sunak as Tory infighting intensifies

There are rumours that a group of Tory MPs are keen to replace the PM with his former leadership rival and now Leader of the House of Commons in his cabinet, Penny Mordaunt.

British PM Rishi Sunak (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

By: India Weekly

A British minister on Sunday (17) vigorously defended prime minister Rishi Sunak, who is also his party’s leader, amidst escalating internal discord within the governing Conservative Party and the latter’s efforts to ride out of it.

The turmoil comes as the premier faces challenges from factions on the right calling for a change in leadership ahead of an anticipated general election later this year. The 43-year-old British Indian leader has dismissed the possibility of an early election in May, leaving a potential gap of months before any decision to seek the electorate’s mandate. Amidst growing murmurs of rebellion within the Tory ranks, anxious about the prospect of losing their seats, transport secretary Mark Harper was directly questioned during a television interview about his views on Sunak’s leadership prospects at the general election.

“Yes he will, and he’ll take us into that election and he’ll set out very clearly that we’re a government with a plan,” Harper told Sky News.

Read: UK law amendment on the cards to curb foreign control over its dailies

“The plan is working, we’re driving down inflation, we’re reducing people’s taxes. We’re the only party that’s got a plan to deal with the priorities of the country that will take us into that election and set out a choice,” he added.

On rumours that a group of Tory MPs are keen to replace Sunak with his former leadership rival and now Leader of the House of Commons in his cabinet, Penny Mordaunt, Harper said, “What I would say to all my colleagues is this; I spend my time as transport secretary focusing on doing what I think is the right thing for the country, making decisions that I think are sensible.”

Read: Sunak rules out election on May 2; UK may go to polls in 2024 second half

“That is the approach that the prime minister takes as well. He focuses on making the right decisions even if in the short term they are not necessarily popular,” Harper said.

According to The Daily Telegraph, a meeting is understood to have taken place this weekend between leading figures on the right wing of the Tory party and prominent supporters of Mordaunt from when she previously ran for the Tory leadership after the exit of Boris Johnson as prime minister in 2022.

“Some right-wing MPs met with Team Penny this week, where they expressed the view they were prepared to back her. They take the view that Penny is preferable to Rishi Sunak right now. Penny Mordaunt is now seen as the most likely person to stem the losses,” the newspaper quoted a source as saying.

Discussions among Conservative MPs reflect a sense of despair over the consistent lead enjoyed by the Opposition Labour Party in pre-election surveys, raising concerns about the potential for a disastrous defeat. Despite efforts such as the Spring Budget earlier this month, which failed to shift public opinion in the Tories’ favour, and a series of notable departures from their ranks, discontent among Conservative backbenchers is on the rise.

Sunak’s critics back him

However, prominent critics of Sunak, including allies of Johnson such as former minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, have rejected the notion of replacing the British Indian leader at this stage of the electoral cycle, labeling it as “madness.”

“Interesting to hear lots of media reporting of centre-right Conservative MPs pushing for a certain leadership candidate to replace Rishi. Having spoken with lots of my colleagues, no one seems to have heard or been pushing for such a thing,” said Andrea Jenkyns, a Tory MP critical of Sunak’s leadership.

Labour, meanwhile, has jumped on the turmoil to demand an early general election. “This is not in the national interest anymore. It is irresponsible. We need stability in this country. He [Sunak] could stabilise this by naming the date of a general election. Otherwise, I fear we may have a Tory leadership election ahead of a general election,” said shadow minister Jonathan Ashworth.

The pressure on Sunak is likely to intensify further after the local council and mayoral elections take place across England on May 2, when the Tories are expected to face adversity.

(With PTI inputs)

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