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Sunak Channels Fury With Rebel Tories Over Plots Against Him

(Bloomberg) -- Rishi Sunak told members of his Conservative Party that rebel MPs were making him “angry,” people familiar with the matter said, in a sign that the prime minister believed he needed to fight back against plots to oust him.

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Sunak made remarks at a private meeting of ruling party lawmakers Wednesday, according to people briefed on what he said. The prime minister went on to dismiss those seeking his removal as only a small group intent on undermining his government, the people said. The premier said that by agitating the rebels were undermining the prospects of all Conservative lawmakers at the general election.

Several witnesses described Sunak’s demeanor as revved up, with one describing the premier as fiery in his efforts to bring recalcitrant lawmakers to heel. After weeks of speculation about plots to depose him, another of Sunak’s sometime critics described his performance as persuasive.

Outside of the meeting in Parliament, former Cabinet Minister Shailesh Vara told reporters that Sunak had been “passionate” in his performance. Another MP, Jonathan Gullis, told reporters Tory rebels are behaving like “idiots.” Former Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg told reporters: “I’m supporting the prime minister. May he go on as long as Walpole,” referring to 18th century premier Robert Walpole who lasted nearly 21 years.

At the closed-door meeting several MPs called for unity, reminding colleagues of the misery of being in opposition, according to witnesses. Others urged Sunak to go out and personally campaign for the party’s regional mayors ahead of local elections in May. Another described the meeting as weird, accusing colleagues of performative cheering to give the impression of support for Sunak.

The meeting comes after repeated political setbacks that prompted some ruling party MPs, including members of Sunak’s own government to privately question whether he could hang on until an election expected to be held later in the year. More than 16 months since Sunak took over as prime minister, the Conservatives remain far behind opposition leader Keir Starmer’s Labour.

Some Conservative MPs believe the party could lose fewer seats at the election if it parachutes in a different leader. Speculation about a replacement has ranged from Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt, to Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch alongside Security Minister Tom Tugendhat and Defense Secretary Grant Shapps. Sunak was seeking to rally other Conservatives who believe changing leaders again for the third time in two years would alienate the electorate.

Earlier, Labour sought to capitalize on the Conservative splits. At his weekly question and answer session in Parliament, Sunak repeated his assertion that the election would be in the second half of the year. In reply, Starmer told the prime minister it wasn’t surprising he had ruled out a spring election while “half his cabinet are lining up to replace him.”

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