Boris Johnson addresses the Conservative Democratic Organisation Conference
Rishi Sunak vowed to “stay the course” and deliver for Britain as he faced down a simmering Tory revolt.
The PM brushed off criticism from the right of the party and doubled down on his commitment to fix the economy, cut NHS waiting lists and stop the boats crossing the channel.
He told the Sunday Express: “The public can rest assured, I’m on their side. People are sick of politicians flip-flopping and changing tack – I’m staying the course.”
Mr Sunak was in defiant mood as he warned he would secure as many barges “as it takes” to house illegal migrants. He pledged to hold pandemic-style cross-departmental summits every week to tackle the crisis.
And he dismissed the Archbishop of Canterbury’s criticism of plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Mr Sunak – who became PM just 200 days ago – refused to budge as senior Tories lined up to tear into his record at a conference of activists.
He said: “I know times are tough – that’s why I’m focused on delivering on five priorities – halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, cutting waiting lists and stopping the boats.
“I’m working at it night and day to deliver the things that matter most to people.”
The PM has come under fire after Tory activists and key allies of former PM Boris Johnson gathered at the Conservative Democratic Organisation’s conference in Bournemouth.
Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries launched a scathing attack on the present leadership in the wake of the party losing more than 1,000 council seats in this month’s local elections.
She said: “We are drifting and people know that. They can sense it and they can smell it.
“We no longer have that inspirational leader and those visionary policies that people can vote for.”
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Appearing in a video, Boris Johnson said: “Thank you for continuing to campaign for freedom and democracy, campaigning against unnecessarily high taxation, against unnecessary regulation and of course, on the world stage, above all, campaigning for the democratic freedom of the people of Ukraine.”
But former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg – addressing the same gathering – warned that the Tories would be “toast” if they did not get behind Mr Sunak.
He said: “Many of us were unhappy about what happened last year and the changes of leader. But think carefully. We must not change leader again. We must support Rishi Sunak up to the general election, otherwise we’ll be toast.”
The Prime Minister has triggered anger in Brexiteer circles by ditching the plan to replace all EU-era laws that are still on the British statute book by the end of the year.
But veteran Brexiteers Liam Fox, David Davis and Andrea Leadsom sprang to Mr Sunak’s defence, insisting Britain is still “repealing or reforming vast swathes of the laws we have carried over from the EU”.
Their support comes as senior Tories argue there is “all to play for” and with a relentless focus on delivery the party has a chance to defeat Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party.
Top Tories believe the state of the economy will decide the election. An insider said: “The election will be won on three things: Inflation, interest rates and the giveaways we can afford in the next Budget.”
But Tories know they have limited time to cement support with the electorate.
One MP who will fight to stop Labour retaking his iconic “red wall” seat at the next election said: “We either deliver on our pledges in which case we win, or we don’t in which case we probably won’t.”
At the Bournemouth conference, former home secretary Priti Patel took the party hierarchy to task for the drubbing at the last elections.
She said the “most electorally successful PM since Margaret Thatcher” had been ousted with the departure of Mr Johnson. Some colleagues, she said, had done “better at damaging our party than the Opposition”.
But a senior Conservative insider said there was no chance of Mr Johnson returning as PM. They said: “Boris Johnson is not coming back. That decision has been taken.”
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