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Source A UK minister came out strongly in defence of his party leader Rishi Sunak on Sunday as the increasingly beleaguered prime minister attempts to ride out infighting within the ranks, with sections to the right of the governing Conservative Party calling for a leadership change ahead of a general election expected later in the year.

The 43-year-old British Indian leader has ruled out the prospect of an early election in May and with possibly months before he decides to go to the electorate, the murmurings of rebellion within the Tory ranks fearful of losing their seats seem to be growing at a steady pace.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper was directly asked during a television interview if he thinks Sunak will be the leader of the Conservative Party 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'.

“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 said.

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 added: “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.”

“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.

The discussions are reflective of despair among some Conservative MPs at the steady lead in favour of the Opposition Labour Party in pre-poll surveys and the prospect of heading towards a disastrous defeat. With the Spring Budget earlier this month failing to turn the dial in the party's favour and a series of high-profile exits from the Tory ranks, there is growing discontent among the Conservative backbenchers.

However, some of Sunak's very vocal critics and Boris Johnson allies, such as former minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, have dismissed the idea of replacing the British Indian leader at this juncture in the electoral cycle 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 suffer losses.

Source : UK PM Rishi Sunak's leadership in turmoil amid infighting

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