Wednesday, 17 Jul 2024

Sunak’s reshuffle gamble has set up a life and death struggle with Tory right

Watch Live: Downing Street as Prime Minister carries out ministerial reshuffle

A red wall Tory MP on the right of the party stood in front of me shaking with rage at what was unfurling.

He admitted to having had a couple of whiskies to calm his nerves but was getting ready to do what would have been unthinkable before the weekend.

“I’m in the territory now of submitting a letter [to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady] to ask for a leadership vote,” he said.

“I really have nothing to lose. It is clear the Prime Minister wants to destroy my side of the party, I am going to lose my seat anyway the way things are going, and we cannot do any worse with a new leader.”

The MP looked with utter disbelief at two colleagues from the left of the party with big smiles on their faces.

“They’re happy with themselves today, but we will see.”

The MP was far from being alone at the outrage felt by the ousting of the last true rightwinger from the cabinet with the sacking of Suella Braverman and the removal of many more from ministerial positions.

“Why has Sunak sacked Suella for telling the truth about the police?” asked one bewildered by the events.

But it rapidly was becoming clear that the decision had been made weeks maybe months ago and was largely unaffected by the controversy of the marches over the weekend.

Sources have suggested that Mr Sunak at first approached Lord Hague, the former party leader and his predecessor for his Richmond seat, to take his old job at the Foreign Office (FCDO).

Hague is said to have turned it down and suggested he asked Cameron.

Cue weeks of talks in the background before today’s reshuffle was made possible.

An ally of Ms Braverman told Express.co.uk that she and her supporters “really knew the game was up over the weekend.

“There was a hope that he [Sunak] would not do anything stupid, but it had been clear that he was going to sack her.”

One last roll of the dice was for her to tweet out tough lines on Sunday to tell the police that there would be no more marches.

The hope was that it would put the Prime Minister in a difficult position of looking as though he was siding with the leftwingers and anti-Semites on the march, but it was to no avail.

Instead, her sacking was the opening shot in a day of firings for the right or what little was left in Mr Sunak’s ministerial team.

Quickly, in the morning, Ms Braverman’s closest allies in the Common Sense Group founded by her mentor Sir John Hayes and the New Conservatives arranged a meeting in the afternoon to discuss whether to make a push for a leadership vote.

This requires 53 letters to go in Sir Graham for him to call a vote of confidence.

As one senior Tory said ahead of the meeting: “It is all about number-crunching now. We need to work out if we have the numbers to oust him and then if we have the numbers to get Suella or another person from the right to the final two.

“We have to decide whether it is better to go now or later or even after an election defeat.”

As it happened, they did not come to an immediate decision but the mood of the meeting was described as being a mixture of fury and despondency.

Some were pushing for “the nuclear option” of moving against Sunak quickly but others are said to have wanted time “to see how things pan out.”

The European Research Group (ERG) of Brexiteer Tory MPs has not met yet but they too were “fuming”.

As one former minister put it: “There is an ominous silence on the right of the party. Nobody is happy with this reshuffle. The right of the party has gone dark.”

But one MP, Dame Andrea Jenkyns signalled the start of letters by publicly publishing her.

Others have privately admitted their’s are going in too. But as things stand, the best estimate is 20 pieces of correspondence to Sir Graham.

There was much for the right to be angry about though.

Ms Braverman’s replacement James Cleverly is well-liked as a person by most of his colleagues, but the right was angry that he supports remaining in the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

One MP suggested: “This is basically the end of the Rwanda scheme. He did not even mention it in his video.”

Most of all, David soon to be Lord Cameron’s return blindsided many but was met with dismay.

“If the Prime Minister thinks Cameron is the answer to getting back the votes we have lost since 2019, he has lost the plot,” said one MP.

“Having the Foreign Secretary in the Lords is going to give us a constitutional crisis. It’s undemocratic!” blasted another.

“Basically, the message is from the Prime Minister is that none of his MPs were good enough,” a third added.

While a fourth noted: “Cameron opposed Brexit in the referendum, after the referendum and still does now he is Foreign Secretary. That’s an interesting message.

There was more.

Two 2019ers Laura Trott as Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Richard Holden as Chairman astonished many.

Trott was described as “a socialist in blue clothing.”

“There won’t be any spending cuts with her in post,” said one MP.

Then Esther McVey suddenly came in at the last minute as a minister attending cabinet to deal with woke issues.

Ms McVey is well-liked and respected on the right, but her appointment came too late to appease angry MPs and was dismissed as “a sop”.

“She’s been bought off,” said one even though she will have taken a pay cut because she has to drop her GB News show.

Others were pleased: “At least we have one proper rightwing voice around the cabinet table.”

She is understood to have been taken by surprise but said it is an opportunity for her to make the case for common-sense policies and stand up for working people.

But the most despondent MPs though had come from the Red Wall seats, who Ms McVey’s Blue Collar Movement helped get elected.

One noted: “Basically the middle class privately-educated lefty types have been given jobs.”

Another put it more bluntly: “It is like we were invited to join the golf club and our membership has just been rescinded.”

There is a belief widely shared that the reshuffle was “about destroying the right of the party.”

In so doing, it was also about “abandoning the new Red Wall seats won in 2019.”

One MP noted: “All the campaign cash is going to wet MPs in the south of England. They are more worried about dealing with the Lib Dem vote.”

This would mean that after an election the party will be “dominated by lefty Lib Dem-ish wets” as one put it.

It has reminded people of Nadine Dorries’ recently published book about the plot to get rid of Boris.

“We are seeing the culmination of the project to destroy the right which funnily enough was started by David Cameron,” an MP said.

But it is not over.

Sunak may have survived an immediate surge of letters but the plotting is only just beginning.

Tonight, Dorries’ book launch was attended by Boris Johnson and other senior figures in the anti-Sunak factions.

Meanwhile, tomorrow Liz Truss’ pro growth group will publish their paper with demands for the Autumn Statement and tax cuts.

There are a number of factions on the right ready to move against the Prime Minister.

One MP at the heart of those talks said: “We now have abandoned the coalition of voters that won us a huge majority in 2019.

“Suella was the last person in the Cabinet who spoke to them. We need to get back to trying to win them back or face destruction.”

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