Rishi Sunak tells Tories to ‘stick to the plan’ amid reports of plot to oust him

The Prime Minister launched a political fightback after days of leadership speculation amid fears over a wipeout at the polls.

Noise about Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leadership has grown louder in Westminster
Noise about Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leadership has grown louder in Westminster (Carl Recine/PA)

Rishi Sunak has insisted “the economy is turning a corner” and urged mutinous Tory MPs to “stick to the plan” amid reports of a plot to oust him before the election.

The Prime Minister is seeking to shift the political debate to the gradually improving economic outlook in an attempt to shore up his leadership.

With many Tories increasingly fearful about losing their seats, there have been claims that some MPs are considering replacing him with Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt before a national vote.

Launching a fightback, Mr Sunak vowed that 2024 “will be the year Britain bounces back” in remarks issued by Downing Street on Sunday night.

He faces another tough week with his Rwanda Bill returning to the Commons and an appearance before the backbench 1922 committee.

Mr Sunak said he hopes to see “more progress” on inflation when the Office for National Statistics releases the latest inflation data on Wednesday.

(PA Graphics/Press Association Images)

He said: “There is now a real sense that the economy is turning a corner with all the economic indicators pointing in the right direction.

“This year, 2024, will be the year Britain bounces back.

“Inflation has more than halved, with the OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) forecasting it will hit its 2% target in just a few months’ time, a full year ahead of what they were forecasting just a few months ago.”

(Press Association Images)

On Monday, Mr Sunak will set out reforms to boost apprenticeships and cut red tape for small businesses at a conference in Warwickshire.

MPs will later consider changes made to his Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill by the House of Lords.

The Government will seek to overturn peers’ amendments after it suffered 10 defeats in the upper chamber.

But a poll by Focaldata commissioned by the British Future think tank found majority public support for almost all of the changes proposed by the Lords to introduce additional safeguards.

Cabinet minister Mark Harper could not guarantee migrant flights to Rwanda will take off before the election
Cabinet minister Mark Harper could not guarantee migrant flights to Rwanda will take off before the election (Lucy North/PA)

The deportation policy also faces fresh criticism after a Cabinet minister failed to guarantee migrant flights will take off before the general election and reports that Kigali has insisted on a staggered approach to the implementation of the policy.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper on Sunday said it was the Government’s “intention” for flights to begin before voters go to the polls, but refused to guarantee it.

The Times reported that the first flights are unlikely to take off before mid-May, and that Kigali wants to test the policy with a pause of two months after it accepts the first tranche of migrants.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper tweeted: “Unbelievable. Govt finally admitting here that Tories’ flagship £500m Rwanda scheme will only cover around 150 people. Probable cost of this failing gimmick to British taxpayer is near £2m per person.”

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.