Former Brexit minister Lord Frost was ordered by Sunak loyalist Nicholas True, the leader of the House of Lords, to reveal the names of secret moneymen who funded a £40,000 poll that forecast a Labour landslide.
A defiant Lord Frost, who organised the survey, refused to reveal the names of the secret donors - or confirm rumours that the survey had been bankrolled from overseas.
The explosive YouGov poll was used by Lord Frost to claim that the Tories are doomed under Mr Sunak. Although the interpretation of its results has been challenged by experts, it has since been linked to an orchestrated right-wing revolt to oust the PM.
The face-to-face showdown between Lord True and Lord Frost is the latest sign that Mr Sunak is determined to fight moves to replace him by Tories close to his two recent predecessors, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.
Michael Heseltine, the former deputy PM, said Lord Frost should be “kicked out of the Tory party” entirely over his betrayal. “Someone’s got to confront that,” he said.
The Tory grandee told Times Radio that right-wing Brexiteers such as Lord Frost are “getting ever more desperate to try and pretend that there are alternatives” to Britain’s current malaise.
The party is understood to be confident that the plot is not being funded by any current Conservative donors.
Insiders also concede that the whip cannot be removed from a politician simply because they do not back their leader. However, there is an established precedent to strip someone of the whip if they are found to have been working with another party.
The group behind the poll call themselves the Conservative Britain Alliance (CBA), though there is no official record of their existence or membership.
The survey revealed a 27-point lead for Labour, and predicted that the Tories could retain as few as 169 seats at the coming general election. Although the interpretation of its results has been challenged by experts, it has since been linked to an orchestrated right-wing revolt to oust the PM.
Days after it was published, former cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke called for Mr Sunak’s resignation, also in the pages of the Telegraph.
Sir David called on Lord Frost to “do the honourable thing” and name the donors himself.
The former Brexit minister told The Independent: “If you are in receipt of the Conservative whip, you owe a loyalty to your party. He did a very good job, one has to say, as a minister in a Conservative government, but he does also owe them a certain loyalty, particularly in the election year.”
He added: “That is why it is the honourable thing to do to reveal the source of these polls, because they do read as though they have been deliberately designed to create difficulties for the Conservative Party.”
Sir Charles said: “Many of us have had enough of Lord Frost and his noises off. He’s never stood for public office, he’s never had his own constituents. He suffers in the eyes of many from a shortage of credibility.”
On Downing Street’s efforts to flush out the plotters, Sir Charles added: “No 10 should press home its advantage. It is coming from a position of strength, and the rebels from a position of weakness. Lord Frost and the rebels haven’t put up – so now it’s time for them to shut up.”
Senior Sunak allies say Lord Frost should leave the Tory party if he is being funded by anyone working with Reform UK. One leading Tory moderate said: “Lord Frost should certainly reveal the information [about funding]. We need complete transparency.”
Another senior Sunak ally also said Lord Frost should “put up or shut up”, saying it was time to reveal the group’s funders and come clean about his “real intentions” to replace the prime minister.