Grant Shapps: Not the time or place for Tory leadership battle

Grant Shapps has told Tory MPs considering ousting Rishi Sunak before the general election to “let him get on with the job”.

The Defence Secretary said “now is not the time or place” to try to put in place yet another Tory leader.

It came as Downing Street brushed off rumours on Friday that the Prime Minister could fire the starting gun on an election campaign next week in a bid to thwart a possible challenge from restive MPs.

A disastrous set of local elections for the Conservative Party on May 2 could lead some Tories to view replacing Mr Sunak as leader as the only way to improve the party’s dire polling and avert a similar wipeout in a national vote.

But in an interview with The Times, Mr Shapps said: “Let him get on with the job.

“He’s doing a great job, he’s doing it under difficult circumstances.

“There was never an instruction book to get these difficult things (done) and actually steer us through a difficult course.

“We are into the growth phase now for the economy, inflation is back under control, (we are) able to do things like the 2.5% (defence-spending increase).

“We just need to actually give the Prime Minister space to get on with the job.”

Rishi Sunak visit to Poland and Germany
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak committed to spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by 2030 (Henry Nicholls/PA)

Mr Shapps’ message to rebellious colleagues was that “now is not the time or place” to replace Mr Sunak at the helm of the Conservative Party, which is already on its fifth leader since 2015.

But a BMG survey for the i paper suggested that voters who backed the Conservatives in 2019, but have since deserted the party, would be more likely to vote Tory under a different leader.

With the prospect of a drubbing in mayoral and council elections looming, this week saw Mr Sunak seeking to bolster his leadership with a commitment to spend 2.5% of gross domestic product on defence by 2030, and his Rwanda asylum plan signed into law.

Mr Shapps told the newspaper: “The past week has shown we have a very effective Prime Minister when it comes to looking after the things that really matter.

“Rwanda — who has a plan? Only us. The 2.5% thing. Here is a Prime Minister who seriously listens to the argument and then shows leadership.”

Similarly, Home Secretary James Cleverly on Thursday warned Tory MPs considering submitting no-confidence letters in Mr Sunak not to “feed the psychodrama”.

“If you’re going to jump out of an aeroplane, please make sure you’ve got a parachute before you leave the aeroplane,” he said.

Mr Sunak has insisted that he intends to call a general election in the second half of the year, but there was some speculation in Westminster that he could do so as soon as Monday, which would mean voters going to the ballot box in early June.

Many Westminster analysts see October or November as the favoured period for a national poll. The latest possible date Mr Sunak could hold the election is January 28 2025.

The Tories are expected to suffer heavy losses in a swathe of local votes next week, but it is the potential loss of two Conservative mayoralties which could prove a flashpoint for Mr Sunak’s fortunes.

Some analysts believe defeat for West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen could lead to the Prime Minister facing a no-confidence vote, with 52 Tory MPs needed to trigger one.