PM will call snap election if 10 Conservative MPs defect to Reform UK, top Tory claims

By John Mercury March 12, 2024

Rishi Sunak will call a snap general election if 10 Conservative MPs defect to Reform UK, a top Tory with close links to Downing Street has claimed.

The source of the claim, made to parliamentary colleagues after Lee Anderson’s shock defection, is an influential party figure with impeccable connections.

The prime minister’s threat emerged as he mingled with Conservative MPs at the 1922 Committee’s spring reception after a half-hour meeting with the ’22 executive.

Traditionally known as “the men in grey suits”, the senior MPs who make up the 1922 Committee executive have the power to make or break prime ministers.

According to parliamentary folklore, they have in the past handed a failing party leader “a glass of whisky and a pearl-handled revolver in a darkened room”.

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It hasn’t reached that stage with Mr Sunak yet. And the claim that he would trigger an election if 10 Tory MPs join Reform UK suggests he would defy any move to oust him.

Senior Tory Eurosceptics are doubtful, however, that Mr Anderson’s move will lead to more defections. “Lee is not part of the Tory tribe,” one veteran MP told Sky News.

“Most Conservative MPs, even those who are sympathetic to the policies of Reform UK, take the view that doing anything that helps them helps the Labour Party.”

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‘I want my country back’

Ahead of their meeting with the prime minister, members of the 18-strong ’22 executive told Sky News there was no agenda, describing it as “a scheduled meeting – nothing exciting”.

But Mr Anderson’s defection and the growing threat to the Tories from Reform UK at the general election is certain to have been at the forefront of the discussions.

Other topics are likely to have included the failure of last week’s budget to give the Conservatives a poll bounce, the future of Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and the timing of the election.

On Sir Lindsay’s future, it is highly significant that 1922 chairman Sir Graham Brady, vice chairman William Wragg and other executive members are backing a motion of no confidence in the Speaker.

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After his meeting with the 1922 executive, Mr Sunak arrived at their reception flanked by the tall, burly figures of Sir Graham, Mr Wragg, Gary Sambrook and other executive members.

Onlookers remarked that the diminutive prime minister looked like a hostage surrounded by his large muscular captors, a metaphor that seemed appropriate for Mr Sunak’s current embattled plight.

But asked by Sky News about his meeting with the 1922 executive, Mr Sunak replied, with a not very convincing smile: “Always excellent.”

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