Former brexit minister Lord Frost was ordered by Sunak loyalist and Lords leader Lord True to reveal the names of secret backers who funded a £40,000 poll which forecast a Labour landslide or face losing the Conservative whip.
Defiant Lord Frost, who organised the survey, had refused to reveal the names of the secret donors - or confirm rumours that it was bankrolled from overseas. The group behind the poll is simply called the Conservative Britain Alliance (CBA), though there is no official record of their existence or membership.
The explosive YouGov poll was used by Lord Frost to claim the Tories are doomed under Sunak. It predicted a 27-point lead for Labour and the Tories to retain as few as 169 seats at the next 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 the poll was published, former cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke called for Mr Sunak’s resignation in the pages of the Daily Telegraph, leaving many wondering if the damaging opinion poll and Sir Simon’s op-ed were related.
Just days before the polls publication, Mr Sunak faced an internal row over his Rwanda bill, where 60 Conservative MPs backed rebel amendments. Though the bill passed third reading unammended, Rishi Sunak had faced considerable, public damage to his authority.
It has also been revealed that Mr Sunak’s former SPAD, Will Dry, had resigned his post back in December and was now working the shadowy CBA to help design the questions for their YouGov poll.
It has since been revealed that the group may contain as many as ten MPs and a dozen SPADs, and is bank-rolled by Tory donors, who are attempting to oust the PM and turn the party away from electoral oblivion.
The face-to-face showdown in a meeting this week 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 predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.
Mr Sunak has had the public backing of several high-profile colleagues in the wake of the challenges to his authority, including from the likes of former leader David Davis, former secretaries of state, Priti Patel and Liam Fox.
Moderates in the party have also warned their colleagues both publicly and privately against staging a coup, for fear the public may never forgive yet another leadership change.
Harriet Baldwin, Tory backbencher and chair of the treasury committee, suggested to colleagues that the 1922 committee change its rules to raise the threshold of no-confidence letter from 15 per cent to 50 per cent – in order to prevent leadership elections.
Now, the Times has reported that Lord True has repeatedly asked Lord Frost to declare who paid for the YouGov poll – and whether right-wing challenger Reform UK were behind its creation.
Reform UK, led by Richard Tice, is the latest threat to the Conservative’s existence, with one poll suggesting that Reform could take up to as much as 12 per cent of the vote at the next general election.
Now, Lord True has warned Lord Frost that if he does not reveal the identities of the donors he could be stripped of the whip, while another warned he could be embroiled in an ethics scandal should he refuse to comment.
On Wednesday the British Polling Council examined the controversial poll after concerns were raised about its funding and the wording of the questions. But the BPC ultimately concluded that there was “no reason to believe that YouGov have not met their obligations” and were assured that they had followed the rules and sought the right guidance when being commissioned.
All that is left for Mr Sunak now is the hope that his backers remain loyal, but rebels say the next month is critical as the parts of the country take to the ballot boxes for a series of by-elections.
One Tory insider told the Independent that “although there’s enough time for another surprise or two” before then, Sunak could face a flurry of more public calls to step down if the party loses any more seats before the next election, while another Conservative MP said “a couple of bruising by-election defeats could spell more trouble.”