Sunak will lead Tories into general election, minister insists amid plot rumours

Transport Secretary Mark Harper also said the ‘froth’ about a potential May election was ‘always nonsense’.

Rishi Sunak has endured a turbulent week
Rishi Sunak has endured a turbulent week (Carl Recine/PA)

Rishi Sunak will lead the Tories into the general election this year, Cabinet minister Mark Harper has insisted amid reports of a plot to oust the Prime Minister.

With many Tories increasingly concerned about losing their seats, there have been claims that some MPs are considering replacing Mr Sunak with Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt before the nation goes to the polls.

Asked whether Mr Sunak will still be Tory leader at the election, Mr Harper told Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips: “Yes he will. He will take us into that election and he will set out very clearly that we’re a Government with a plan.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said Rishi Sunak will still be Tory leader at the election
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said Rishi Sunak will still be Tory leader at the election (Lucy North/PA)

“I’m going to be supporting him all the way through, and I’m confident that my colleagues will.”

The Transport Secretary also said: “Politics is a team game.”

Asked for his message to mutinous Tory MPs, Mr Harper said: “What I would say to all of 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.

“That is the approach that the Prime Minister takes as well. He focuses on making the right decisions.”

Senior Tories have sought to downplay reports of backbench plotting, with a source close to Ms Mordaunt rejecting claims about an effort to elevate her to the Tory leadership as “nonsense”.

Former Conservative Party chairman Sir Jake Berry denied any involvement, blaming Downing Street for briefing his name to the media.

He told Times Radio: “It’s categorically incorrect. I understand that No 10 is briefing it out purposely.

“It speaks to how incompetent the advisers around Rishi Sunak are. If you’ve got a problem with Conservative MPs being unhappy, briefing names to newspapers, creating a blue-on-blue media furore, just gives the story more legs.”

The febrile mood within the party comes as Mr Sunak ruled out holding a general election on May 2, having previously indicated he will send the country to the polls in the latter half of 2024.

(Press Association Images)

Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who had talked up the prospect of a May vote, have accused the Prime Minister of “bottling” it and “squatting” in No 10.

But Mr Harper rejected the “froth” about a May election.

“The Prime Minister made it quite clear at the beginning of the year that his working assumption was the election was going to be at the end of the year,” the minister said.

“All this sort of froth we’ve had about an election being in May was always nonsense, frankly, and he made that clear at the beginning of the year.”

The reports of an organised attempt to remove Mr Sunak followed a tough week for him, in which he came under fire over his handling of racist comments allegedly made by a major party donor, and the defection of Lee Anderson – who Mr Sunak had promoted to Tory deputy chairman – to the right-wing populist Reform UK party.

Jeremy Hunt’s Budget – in which the Chancellor announced his ambition to scrap national insurance – failed to boost the Tories’ dire polling figures.

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth urged Rishi Sunak to name the date of the general election
Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth urged Rishi Sunak to name the date of the general election (Lucy North/PA)

Shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth called for Mr Sunak to name the date of the general election and expressed concerns there could be a Tory leadership election preceding it.

The Labour frontbencher said: “We’ve had Rishi Sunak unveiling an unfunded £46 billion bombshell which threatens public services or threatens the state pension as we know it.

“We’ve heard that he’s been bankrolled by this racist money, and in his election campaign.

“There’s Tory MPs who are in the papers today saying Rishi Sunak can’t continue.

“This is not in the national interest anymore. It is irresponsible. We need stability in this country.

“He could stabilise this by calling, naming the date of a general election. Otherwise, I fear we may have a Tory leadership election ahead of a general election.”