Mr Sunak won the first round of the Tory leadership race when MPs voted, but was beaten by Ms Truss in the members’ vote that decides the party leader (Photo: Jonathan Hordle/ITV/PA Wire)
Conservative former ministers are plotting to remove Liz Truss as Prime Minister to install a caretaker leader, with Rishi Sunak emerging as the rebels’ choice, i has learnt.
The MPs are discussing putting Mr Sunak in No 10 in an unopposed “coronation” believing he will improve the economy and give the party a better chance of holding on to seats at the next election.
They believe the former chancellor would step forward “for the good of the country” even if the Tories were on course to lose the next election, which appears likely with Labour way ahead in several opinion polls by around 30 points.
Although several MPs expect Ms Truss to be given until the local elections next May to show some improvement after a dire start, others want to act quickly to crown a new leader who would not need endorsement of party members.
An ally of Mr Sunak said he had nothing to do with the plotting and has spent the last week mainly in his constituency in Richmond, North Yorkshire, as well as attending the premiere of Matilda The Musical on Wednesday with his daughter, having left Ms Truss to “own the moment” at a chaotic and divided Tory conference in Birmingham.
“He’s not involved,” the ally said. “He has been in his constituency spending time with family.”
In the summer’s Conservative leadership election, Mr Sunak won the first round of voting among MPs but was defeated convincingly by 57.4 per cent to 42.6 per cent by Ms Truss in the second round members’ vote.
However, many believe that Mr Sunak’s intense criticism of Ms Truss’s economic plans has been somewhat vindicated after her and Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-Budget spooked financial markets, causing the pound to crash to an all-time low against the US dollar before recovering after emergency Bank of England intervention.
“Liz just hasn’t got what it takes,” an ex-Cabinet minister told i. “Rishi would do this for the good of the country.
“The markets would respond immediately – they would see someone in the cockpit who knew how to fly a plane.”
One option being discussed would be along the lines of Michael Howard’s stewardship of the Tory party between 2003 and 2005, after a disastrous two-year tenure of Iain Duncan Smith.
Lord Howard took over without a leadership election with the express intent to lessen Tory losses at the 2005 election to Tony Blair’s Labour. In the end, the party gained 33 seats, more than had been predicted under Sir Iain.
However, the plan would be fraught with complication. By the time of the Howard coronation, Sir Iain had been leader for two years and lost a confidence vote of Tory MPs.
Ms Truss cannot face a confidence vote for the first year of her leadership.
Yet the former Cabinet minister said it was still possible that Ms Truss could be persuaded to stand down by Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee that presides over leadership contests, if he had received enough letters to show she no longer had the confidence of MPs.
Others called for a “gang of four” or five senior figures to “go in and tell her (Ms Truss) the game is up”.
“Wallace, Rishi, Penny, Cleverly, can say ‘look, this way you can go with dignity’,” a Tory former minister told i.
Another former minister added: “I think some in the party are picking fights with her as they want a Rishi coronation.”
Penny Mordaunt, who is believed to still harbour ambitions for the top job, would need to be persuaded not to stand and allow Mr Sunak to win unopposed, with the prospect of her running again after the Tories lost the 2024 election.
In 2003, the then-MP for West Dorset, Oliver Letwin, persuaded members of the Shadow Cabinet to back Lord Howard, including David Davis, who wanted to stand as leader.
Tory MPs need “someone in the genial Machiavelli mould like Oliver” to persuade colleagues to back the idea of a coronation, the ex-Cabinet minister said.
While Michael Gove, who led the Tory conference rebellion that forced Ms Truss to U-turn on scrapping the 45p top rate of income tax, fits the role of “genial Machiavelli”, he is seen as “too divisive”.
It came as Theresa May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy said MPs were “certainly” talking about “saving” the party from Ms Truss’s ideological reforms.
“Only MPs can do it, but somebody needs to save the Conservative Party from the libertarians,” he said.
i understands that Mr Gove used similar language after forcing the 45p U-turn, telling colleagues the victory meant “the libertarians have been stopped in their tracks”.